How I defeat jetlag on transatlantic trips — in economy

After my 2014 campaign for Lt. Governor of California, I took on a new challenge directing the international programs for a prominent non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. Suddenly, the number of flights I take across the Atlantic each year went from one to perhaps six or seven. Adding to the challenge, these trips often require lecturing a day or two after arrival. There’s no time for jet lag.

Defeating jetlag is pretty easy if you’re in one of these — a first class seat on Lufthansa’s A380. But what if you’re in coach? Here’s how I do it.

When I’m heading to Europe, here’s what I do.

  1. Fly over the Atlantic during the day. The international air travel “clock” is set by the Europe-North America routes. Most flights for the United States leave Europe in the morning and arrive in the afternoon local time. The planes are turned over, and bring passengers to Europe in the late afternoon or evening. Connecting flights key off of this system — most flights from the Middle East to Europe, for example, leave in the very early morning hours so passengers can make onward connections to the United States. Likewise, most flights from Europe to the Middle East leave in the afternoon after picking up passengers who came in from the US. I look for that rare transatlantic flight that leaves the US East Coast in the morning, arriving in Europe in the early evening. My favorite: United Airlines flight 122, which departs Washington Dulles (IAD) between 8 and 9 AM ET and arrives in London between 8 and 9 PM local time. Flying in coach on a daytime flight is much less taxing than flying a red eye in a cramped, upright position.
United Airlines flight 122 is one of the few transatlantic flights that departs in the morning, and lands in the evening in Europe. Look for a flight like this.

2. Land in Europe, check into a hotel connected to the airport. These days an “airport hotel” can mean anything ranging from a hotel that is built into the terminal, to one that is literally a bus ride away. At London’s Heathrow airport there are now two hotels physically connected to the airport via an enclosed walkway from Terminal 4 — The Premier Inn and the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 4. As soon as I land at Heathrow I take the Heathrow Express train the one stop to Terminal 4, then it’s a quick 5 minute walk to the hotel. After having dinner in the hotel restaurant, I’m ready for turn in for the night. While there are other hotels in the Heathrow area, they all require taking the “Hotel Hoppa,” which is a public bus — and it’s not free. By the time these passengers finally wind their way to their hotels, which can be miles away, I’m already set to turn in. Hotels connected to the airport are the best — they ensure you don’t have to deal with the elements, they save you time, and they add a measure of predictability. Other excellent hotels connected to European airports include: at Frankfurt (FRA), the Sheraton and Hilton; at Copenhagen (CPN), the Hilton; and at Hamburg (HAM), the Radisson Blu.

The Hilton is one of only two hotels physically connected to Heathrow Airport. Be careful of the “other” Hilton, which bills itself as being at Terminal 5. It’s not — it’s a long bus ride away. When staying at Heathrow, pick the T4 property.

3. Advil PM at night. I’m not a pharmacist, so I’m not making any recommendations concerning medicines, over the counter or otherwise. Personally, I take two Advil PM about an hour before turning in, and it helps me to get a solid night sleep despite the fact that it’s still daytime back at home. Taking a few extra glasses of water at this time also helps to alleviate flight-induced dehydration.

A sleep aid is a key component of my program for defeating jet lag.

4. Cappuccino, please. While the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary widely, a typical cappuccino will have about 5 times the amount of caffeine as a Diet Coke. When getting through Day 1 in Europe, these are essential. By having several throughout the day, I’m able to keep it together until nightfall.

5. Then, take the onward flight. After a good night’s sleep at the Hilton at T4, I have breakfast and walk back to the terminal. Since I’m a Star Alliance loyalist, I head back to Terminal 2, where all the Star Alliance carriers are consolidated under one roof. It’s about a 6 minute walk from the Hilton to the Heathrow Express train, then a 3 minute train ride, followed by about a 10 minute walk from the train stop to T2. In all, I make it from the hotel lobby to check in within 20 minutes. Using this approach, I can be in my final destination city in Europe by 2 PM local time — or about the same time as I would if I took the red eye. The difference is I arrive well rested and not in need of immediately collapsing in a hotel room from exhaustion.

By flying over the Atlantic during the day and then sleeping shortly after arrival I find that the disruptive effect of leaping over so many time zones to be minimized, and it becomes manageable with Advil PM at night and a steady stream of cappuccinos during the day.

If you’re flying in business, then the need to take the daytime flight is greatly reduced, of course. These days, however, that business class ticket will cost several times the price of a coach ticket, and using miles for upgrades often requires a sizeable copay. The program I use mitigates the need to fly in business, and leaves me ready to do business much more quickly than with the traditional red eye flights.

Ron Nehring served as Presidential campaign spokesman for Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Chairman of the California Republican Party. Today he is Director of International Programs for the Leadership Institute.