Extra food or sleep? Air crew advise ‘stay up or go hungry’

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You have a long flight ahead of you and you are tired. Should you choose between staying awake to eat or closing your eyes? It’s a question that has given many passengers many sleepless nights.

The aircrew answered the question with the advice: stay up or be hungry, because they won’t wake you up for dinner service. If you doze off, you lose.

As unappealing as the meal may be, the effects of skipping dinner can have worse side effects than feeling hungry.

On a popular flight attendant forum on Reddit, a passenger shared how his mother was left starving on an international flight to the United States.

“It was dinner and we were both asleep during that time and we were ignored and she had to call us back from the flight attendants.

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“Aren’t you supposed to bother us?”

The cabin crew were quick to respond that if you’re not awake and ready, with your tray down, they’ll assume you’d rather sleep.

“If you’re in first class, maybe business class, we ask you when boarding, ‘if you’re sleeping, do I need to wake you up?'” an attendant replied.

“Otherwise, I guess you’re sleeping because you want to be.”

Other airlines have developed new solutions allowing sleeping passengers to communicate with cabin crew.

For a time, Emirates included colour-coded ‘do not disturb’ stickers in amenity packs, allowing passengers to indicate whether they wanted to be woken up for food, duty-free or simply left to nap . Unfortunately, these were discontinued during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I loved the stickers in the convenience packs which were basically a DND sticker. You would put it on the back of your seat and be left alone for service,” wrote one nostalgic attendant.

“Flight attendants aren’t supposed to wake you up,” wrote another, saying the advice is that passengers are likely to be more unhappy to be woken up for a meal they don’t want. “That being said, if a flight attendant jumps you off because you were sleeping and still want to be served, we’re just waiting for you to let us know and we’ll be happy to bring your meal or drink/snack to you! ”

When is the best time to eat and sleep during a flight?

Normally, for evening flights over 5 hours, a meal is served shortly after takeoff, then the lights are turned off. You know the chorus.

On late flights, it can be tempting to skip the meal and catch 40 winks. However, this routine is there for a reason.

Sleep, meals and exposure to cabin light are carefully controlled to minimize jet lag.

With the advent of ultra-long-haul flights, air travel has become more disorienting to our sleep patterns. In 2019, passengers on Qantas test flights from Sydney to London saw such assaults on their circadian rhythms as two sunrises and a supper were served at 10 a.m. local time to help adjust to the jet lag.

Much has been made of passengers being served “wine for breakfast”, but this was part of the airline’s research into how sleep and meals affect jet lag.

Passengers were even given a color-coded map of time zones and optimal times to rest, meals to promote wakefulness, and even exercise.

In the future, you may be woken between meals and for stretching.

“From a research perspective, this was something quite new,” said Professor Corinne Caillaud, sleep science advisor at Qantas.

The menu was designed with help from the Charles Perkins Center to support wakefulness and sleep.

“We hope that the interventions and strategies we tried on the first research flight helped passengers better manage the challenges of crossing multiple time zones.”

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission

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