Melissa's Flight Attendant Blog

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Name: Melissa

About Me

Countries Visited (not including Turnarounds): Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City

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London | Perth | Sydney | Melbourne

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Skin by Falter

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
It is the bane of every flyer here on earth. The frequent flyer, the flight attendant, the pilot, the family on their bi-annual holiday – no one is immune from Jet lag. It can ruin your stay by chewing up many hours of sleep in daylight that should be spent working or sightseeing. It is such an issue in aviation that there are legalities that govern our rest to counteract it's effects.

Even though our rosters are anything but normal, I try to keep a normal routine here in Dubai. Wake up at 6-7am, bed by 9-10pm. Run in the morning, catch ups and blogging during the day, chillaxing at night. With the majority of trips I do, regardless of where they are and how long they are and whatever horrendous timezone they are, after 5 years of flying I have it pretty much sorted as to when to sleep so I'm not totally wrecked for the operating flights, and when I'm back in Dubai after such a trip it usually only costs me at the most 18 hrs to get back into the swing of things.

At the moment though I'm really struggling to get back into my preferred pattern. Up at midday. In bed by 4am. If I was a member of the numerous party crowd here in the airline, things would be perfect, but alas, I am a morning person through and through and this is not sitting with me very well.

I think the worst case I went through was when I did my first Nagoya layover. After arriving back in Dubai I was going to bed at 5pm and waking up at 2.30am. And Dubai being Dubai, nothing is open at 2.30am, except for the KFC on Sheikh Zayed Road. It was horrible, frustrating and it took me a good 2 weeks to finally adapt to a more human body clock. I think that when things get that bad there isn't a whole lot you can do, just let the body work itself out and try to avoid really harsh sunlight so it doesn't translate into headaches later on.I think every crew member has their own way to deal with jet lag. I guess my best advice would be to never change your watch to the local time, so you always know what time it is back in your home city, and behave accordingly. Some crew wear these dual-time watches, since most of the timings we use on board (to know when service begins, top of decent etc.) are all in Dubai time (GMT +4.00), unless you step foot into the flight deck, where everything is expressed in GMT+0.00, otherwise known as "Zulu time". I find dual-time watches very confusing, especially when you're on a multi sector trip such as BKK/SYD/CHC, so I'm not about to buy one any time soon.

Being a 'Thai Blond', it also took me a few years to work out that there is such a thing as GMT + 13.00. The conversations were hilarious for everyone else, especially the flight deck...
"How can Christchurch be +13.00? Wouldn't that make it GMT -1.00???"
"Well no..."
"If the world is divided into 24 time zones, and from GMT +/- 0.00 are either plus or minus GMT, then how can you have GMT +13.00???"
Oh goodness I confused myself and everyone else around me. I avoided doing the English PA into New Zealand. I am much wiser now I can assure you :-)

The general rule seems to be that for every time zone that you're out of whack, it's going to take one day to recover from. So if I fly from Dubai (GMT +4.00) to Perth (GMT +8.00) then it will take me 4 days to adjust to the new time zone. I know what happens in reality - my flight arrives into Perth at 1am - I get to my family home at 2.30 am. I don't get to sleep until 4am. I wake up at 11am and try to do stuff - then experience a crash at 6pm - where I tend to completely pass out on the couch with my brother watching TV loudly, then I have to be woken for dinner at 7pm. After which I cannot sleep again until 3am. This happens to me on every Perth leave I take, without fail. It really sucks, especially since there are many things I plan to do at home, like for example see the dentist, or visit uni/school friends, and I tend to be either groggy or cranky with both, which isn't me in the slightest.

In theory our rosters can be a lot more harsh on our bodies than people want to believe. If I do a 5 day trip in January, I could be in Auckland (daylight saving GMT +13.00) on the 3rd of January, Melbourne (daylight saving GMT +11.00) on the 4th, Dubai (GMT +4.00) on the 6th, have 2 legal days off then fly to London (GMT +/- 0.00) on the 9th of January. So within the space of 6 days I will have travelled 13 time zones, which is insane. The majority of passengers on our Kangaroo Routes do this trip in 24 hrs, which in itself is quite scary.
The worst case I heard was when a friend of my cousin Katherine wanted to travel from Los Angeles to Perth for a triathlon meet. She went direct from LA to Dubai, a 16 hr flight, then from Dubai to Perth, which is 10.5 hrs. I think the travel agent just wanted to screw with her, because it would have been better for her (and cheaper!) to have the stop over in Sydney, or Melbourne, then catch a domestic flight. It's just as well she was an athlete and not someone who was elderly or a prime target for developing Deep Vein Thrombosis. It's also on these crazy long trips that most people start to get sick, then instead of serving food and booze I'm administering Oxygen and cleaning up vomit. Fun times.

During our medical training we do get taught about sleep deprivation and how to best handle jet lag. They teach us about how a power nap of 45min-1.30hrs is best for the daytime. Try to sleep with light-blocking curtains and an eye mask. Drink plenty of water, and no caffiene.

But when you're online, in the hostie uniform, you're stuck in between a rock and a hard place. You cannot just nip off for a 45 minute power nap when customers *need* you to serve them. You can try to avoid caffiene, but when your wake up call is 9pm and your pick up is 11pm, departure is 2am, then yes, you are going to head straight for the nearest coffee machine. Even when you're on a long haul, and you're in the super comfy PJ's and have been assigned 4 hrs rest, drinking plenty of water before the rest will just lead to many toilet breaks during your rest, and after the bunk time is over you find that you haven't rested well at all. It's pretty frustrating.

So what solutions are out there?

Jet Lag Pills -
There's such a huge market for Jet Lag pills, I'm surprised we're not handed a packet in our welcome gift basket when we land into Dubai. I'm not really keen to try this after my Melatonin episode...

MelatoninMelatonin, which you can find all over Dubai in any vitamin and supplement shop, is supposed to help with sleep, but the only time I've taken this (On my leave mind you, I'm not about to risk taking a sleeping pill and completely miss my work pickup) I had some of the worst nightmares I've ever had in my life. I did a bit more research and read that if the bottle doesn't say 100% natural then these nightmares can happen, but the bottle said 100% natural, so after seeing that it promptly went into the bin.

Aromatherapy (Scented Sleep Spray/Roll On)These tend to be Chamomile and Lavender based. I find they don't really work for me. I do carry around with me on flights this Ginger Flight Therapy roll on stick from Aesop, since this is the one shop where they are guarenteed to sell me everything they promote. I save the roll on stick for the bunks on U.S. and Australian flights, and whilst it doesn't work it does smell nice. Much better than the stinky socks of the crew member in the bunk behind you.

Light box therapy
The only method that looks promising for combatting a muddled Circadian rhythm is Light therapy. Until I'm prepared to fork out USD $200.00 online for a box I don't even know will work then I guess sleeping in at home is the only method that will work for me.

The best thing I did when I first moved to Dubai was to buy the best sheets, duvet and pillows money could buy. It put a dent into my then-woeful salary, but it really makes a difference when you've just come from a Bombay turn at 2pm and all you want to do is fall flat on your duck down duvet wrapped in 1000 thread count sheets. If you're super tired it's almost like you are falling on clouds. Just remember to take the make up off first ;-)

Images from here, here, and here.

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