Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
LED lights might be the artificial key to preserving our bodily rhythms.
For the most part, cures for jet lag are either uncertain or ineffective. Travelers can resort to chugging cups of coffee or imbibing some sort of weird nutritional drink, but more often than not we’re saddled with the exhausting aftermath of a long day’s travel. But what if there was a way to prevent jet lag before its unfortunate onset?
A new plane from Airbus, a global design and manufacturing firm, claims to do just that. The Airbus A350 is installed with LED lights and an air control system that help to mitigate the effects of jet lag.
If it all sounds too good to be true, there’s plenty of science to back it up. On the most basic level, jet lag disrupts our circadian rhythms, or bodily clocks, as we enter a different time zone. Figuring out a way to stabilize our clocks could effectively reduce the chance of feeling groggy after a flight.
With this science in mind, the LED lights on the Airbus A350 produce 16.7 million shades of color that simulate different times of day. The ideal amount of light exposure depends on what time you take off and the direction in which you’re flying. In general, traveling east means that you should speed up your bodily clock by exposing yourself to light early on in the flight. But if you’re traveling west, you’ll need to delay your internal clock by basking in light throughout dusk and early evening.
No matter the destination, the main purpose of the LED lights is to ease passengers into a new time zone. (Since humans haven’t been switching time zones for very long, we aren’t yet able to adapt quickly.) Of course, passengers will still have to acclimate to a new time zone when they land, but it’s easier to do so once they’re exposed to natural light.
Circadian rhythms also influence our natural body temperatures, which can take even longer than sleep patterns to adjust to a new time zone. To help with this, the plane’s air control system renews the air every two minutes and maintains a consistent temperature throughout the cabin.
Right now, you can hop on an Airbus A350 by purchasing specific luxury flights hosted by five airlines—Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Finnair, Singapore Airlines, and TAM Airlines in Brazil. Additional airlines have placed orders as well, though the flights are not yet available. By the end of February, Airbus had already received a total of 777 orders for Airbus A350s.
The concept has also received favorable reviews from passengers. Earlier this month, a writer for Condé Nast Traveler described her experience trying out the Airbus A350 on Singapore Airlines:
I was on its first flight this week, a journey of 12 hours from the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France to Singapore and can report that I functioned like a normal human being after arrival, free from that general yucky feeling you get after being on an airplane for half a day—and I'd do it again tomorrow.
At least jet lag won’t stand in her way.