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How to Cure Jet Lag, According to an Airline CEO

Travel + Leisure logo Travel + Leisure 11/9/2019 Eric Rosen
a man wearing a suit and tie © Courtesy of KLM

Jet lag – it’s the bane of every frequent flier’s existence. Drowsy days, sleepless nights, jagged hunger pangs at random times. Though there is no known cure for jet lag, everyone you ask purportedly has a tried and true method for overcoming it.

Road warriors, sleep scientists, fitness experts, and nutritionists all seem to push helpful, if sometimes contradictory, strategies. Even the Queen of England herself has a few time-tested tricks under her crown to deal with her packed travel schedule.

You can find advice about everything from using sleep aids to advanced dietary planning and high-tech apps for getting your circadian rhythm back in sync after a long flight.

Which is a good thing considering flights are only getting longer and longer, and Qantas plans to make its recent 19-hour test flight from New York to Sydney a regular thing.

But is there something that practically everyone can do to combat jet lag? We caught up with KLM CEO Pieter Elbers during the Dutch airline’s centennial celebrations in Amsterdam to get his take on coping with jet lag.

A frequent flier who takes over 60 flights per year traveling around KLM’s extensive global network, Elbers had one simple piece of advice: “I never forget to bring my running shoes with me.”

“I’ve found that running helps me to keep fit and energized in general,” he said, “but also to battle jet lag. And all you need to pack is a pair of running shoes and a shirt.” He said his favorite pair is the special KLM100 running shoes the airline recently collaborated on with Asics.

a group of people standing on top of a grass covered field: Courtesy of KLM © Courtesy of KLM Courtesy of KLM

Elbers suggested setting out first thing in the morning, as early as possible. “It is the best way to start the day, and I think it helps my inner clock adjust.” Of course, someone as busy as Elbers also takes the opportunity to multitask, using his jogs as a way to explore new cities and to catch up with local colleagues when possible. He even asks his summer interns to join in.

Among his favorite places to run on his travels are New York City’s Central Park and around picturesque West Lake in Hangzhou. “Last time I was in Shanghai,” he said, “I had such a great run along the Bund.”

“But I love to run anywhere the weather is decent and there is a long stretch of road with an inspiring view along the coast or in a park. Waterfronts and parks usually have great sunrise views.”

As for visitors to Amsterdam, he warned, “Amsterdam is full of determined cyclists, so I’d recommend that anyone who runs in the city be diligent about not getting hit by a bike! The largest park in the city, Vondelpark, is a great place to run, though.”

Asked whether KLM fliers might see exercise equipment in the airline’s lounges or even its airplanes anytime soon, Elbers said passengers do not seem to be into the idea. “We tried including information on specific exercises travelers could do on board, but with limited response.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t take his advice, though. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Combining light exposure with exercise such as walking or jogging may help you adapt to the new time even faster.”

So don’t forget to pack your trainers on your next trip. Doing so and getting out for a morning run might just be the key to enjoying your time away that much more.

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