Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

24.10 Jet-lag

It seems to me the journey to Philippines, and return, is getting longer and longer, or at least harder and harder.

Actually, it’s just as long as it ever was, though some of the thoughtful suggestions from Expedia et al., offer routes that last 36 hours over two days, Yikes. I refuse to book trips of anything longer than 21 total travel hours and no more than two connections. Air Canada (and partners) offer a variety of routes through Tokyo, Seoul, or Hong Kong. I’ve never tried routes that head east through Frankfort, Qatar or Singapore – not only does that just feel wrong, but they all take 32 – 38 hours total travel time. My preferred route is MNL to YYZ on Philippines Airlines, direct (~16 hours flying time), but then, I still have to get myself to and from Pearson Airport to Ottawa.) 21 hours, but that doesn’t include the time getting to the airport, and waiting at the airport for the flight to depart, so add another 4 hours, +). Twenty-four hours is long but I’m almost inured to it;  that’s because I’ve done it so many times I know what to expect and the length of the journey is nothing to dread, only to endure.

But it does seem to be getting harder and harder. And I’m not just talking about the seats, which are challenge enough on a two-hour flight but on a 12-, 14-, 16-hour flight I can find no relief. I’ve never been one to enjoy a cramped space; and I’ve never been one to sleep on a plane, nor even in a car (though there have been times on a sunny Sunday afternoon traveling the oh-so-familiar Hwy 7 from Peterborough to Ottawa when I have had to fight the feeling of nodding off; I think of my passengers – Marlene, and three kids in the back seat, all of them sawing logs while I struggled on to get us home in a reasonable time, and safe. Good thing for those gravel shoulders to remind you to open your eyes again.) But on airplanes, even with the aid of a glass or two of wine, dimmed cabin lights, elevated levels of nitrous oxide from the other sleeping passengers, I don’t sleep. I squirm, and turn, and shift my weight yet again, trying to find some comfortable position for just a few hours. And it’s not just to have the health benefits of the needed sleep, but to have the relief of a few hours of unconsciousness from this interminable flight.

I’m sure many of my readers know what I mean by airplane discomfort but there’s a big difference between 5 – 8 hours flying time to Europe and 16 hours to Asia.

For all these reasons, when I fly to the Philippines, I simply can’t face flying in regular Economy Class, where the seats are eleven across, each with about 20 inches of shoulder room and maybe 25 inches of leg room. I wonder how truly big and tall people can possibly stand it for 16 hours. So I bite the financial bullet and upgrade myself. In the beginning when I was in my year of living recklessly I’d indulge in flying Business Class. The service on Air Canada was wonderful, and friendly, the dining exceptional, but the pods, claustrophobic. I’d spend my sleep attempts squirming like an emerging moth from his chrysalis. (I imagine how it must feel to be Rameses encased in his sarcophagus waiting for the next life that never comes. Or the Irishman in his coffin wrongly assessed as dead but merely dead drunk, ringing the bell from his casket to let people know he’s still breathing.)

Lately, as my financial situation becomes ever more dire, I book Premium Economy class with hopes I might get upgraded to Business Class. I always dress like a professional in slacks and blazer to help my case. And it’s worked too, once. The two other times I got up-graded to Business Class from Premium Economy was flying Philippines Airlines and they cancelled my Premium Economy seats because they put a different aircraft on the flight than originally scheduled (a Boeing 777 not configured with a Premium Economy cabin from a Airbus 330). This is very disconcerting when they notify you by email that your seats have been changed from row 21 to row 56, with no other information. Only later, you win the lottery, and they move you to Business Class). Regardless, while the meals and service are wonderful, the stretch-out seats provide little more relief than the Premium Economy seats.

I also have to admit to myself the seats may not be the main cause of discomfort to my ailing back and limbs. For the last few years I have begun to notice (how could I not, when I can hardly make it around the block, smallish block at that), my back offering increasingly loud complaints. When I went to Philippines in April of 2023 I worried about the walk I might face getting from my arrival gate in Tokyo Narita Airport to my connection gate to Manila. And I was right to be concerned; it was a long long walk despite moving sidewalks. Carrying a carry-on bag with books and my computer that weighed more and more with every step, I was grateful for those moving sidewalks so I could stop and rest. When I got back home I finally brought my complaints to my GP who quickly referred me to a sports medicine doctor. Eleven months later I had my appointment and Dr. MacDonald decided a cortisone shot in both hips would fix me right up. That was Tuesday April 23; I flew from Pearson on Thursday April 25. The injection didn’t hurt, muuuch, but the relief was hard to discern lurching through Narita once again.

Still, the discomfort of long distance flying lasts only a day, or maybe 36 hours. (it’s hard to tell because of the 12 hour time zone difference to the Philippines, and even more so flying west over the International Date Line because you also lose a day.) The discomfort from jet-lag lasts a week.

Those of you who have done international travel through multiple time zones know what jet lag is like: you feel generally tired, head-achy, difficulty concentrating, and memory and recall challenged; mildly disoriented, perhaps a bit dizzy, or feeling like you’re ‘leaning’ a bit; you need to avoid quick turns of the head; you lack of interest in food at the new meal times, possibly feel a bit nauseous. For those of you not acquainted with long distance air travel, but have consumed alcohol to excess, the symptoms are similar. 

The usual remedy is to fight sleep until it is normal bedtime in the new time zone, take a sleep aid (melatonin, magnesium, acetaminophen, trazodone) to help get to sleep, and sleep for as long as possible (6 – 8 hours) to trick your body to adapt quickly to the new time zone – at least 8:00 pm. I’ve found historically, time zone changes of 4-5 hours (Eastern Time in North America to Europe) relatively easy to adapt to; for me (despite conventional wisdom) flying west to east is easier than returning, east to west. But with time shifts of 12 hours (or more if you carry on to Australia) you cannot escape the effects of jet-lag. (The Mayo clinic says people may experience symptoms of jet-lag for one day for each hour of time zone shift. Yikes!)

It seems to me (but then, memory is not reliable, possibly from cumulative effects of too many episodes of jet-lag) that the first few times I went to Philippines I didn’t have these symptoms. But then, in 2018, the circumstances were different: my state of mind was somewhat disturbed. (Wait, let’s be candid, I was crazy (see Travels With Myself, episodes TWM 32 (Hair on Fire)  to TWM 43 (Hair on Fire 2), or buy the book at I flew to Philippines in December to meet a beautiful Filipina, I stayed eight days in discovery and returned to Canada, symptomless; I returned to Philippines in January to end it with her, stayed seven days and returned to Canada, consternated but symptomless; I met her in Osaka in April, stayed five days and returned with her to Canada, symptomless (though Carmen was completely disoriented for a week). I marked these results up to my being a veteran, seasoned, traveler.

Thereafter, my travels to the Orient saw me increasingly sensitive to hangover-like symptoms: 2019 to The Philippines for five months (which turned into seven), disoriented for three days (I blamed it on the heat, and the social isolation); 2020, return to Canada, depressed, or maybe covid. Twenty-two months of abstinence from pandemic restrictions, delayed my return to Philippines to 2022, lethargy; brought Carmen back to Canada – both of us confused for a week; I gave her all my remedies and advice which she ignored; I tried all my tricks but jet-lag prevailed for five days; returned to Philippines for a month, sleep issues; more sleep issues when I returned to Canada. In April of 2023 I went back to visit Carmen for a month; lethargy and sleep issues again, for five days. And now it’s 2024 and a month in Philippines and Carmen returning with me to Canada for six months. It’s a repeat of 2022, symptoms not as severe but seem never-ending; it’s been eight days. I am not looking forward to our return trip to Philippines in November, nor, in particular, my return to Canada in December, alone.

But, are these increasing episodes of travel hangover from too many trips? Or is there something else going on here?

I evaluate the situation and have to ask whether age and aging ailments are now factors that weren’t present (or noticed) in 2018. Then, I didn’t’ have a quarter the ailments I have now. More accurately, I probably had the ailments but they were asymptomatic. Weight wasn’t an issue (really?) then as I had lost 25 pounds during my grief the previous year, and while I was taking medication for hypertension, it is a silent condition, until it manifests itself in other ways. But now, many of those ways, and then some, have entered my life, with noticeable consequences, most of them chronic and progressively worsening (for more on all these health issues you might enjoy reading my post (23 June 15), Turning into my Dad. I have to ask myself, is it jetlag I’m feeling? Or fatigue from these insidious conditions? More likely, or maybe both, my hangover symptoms derive more from the medications I take to combat the aging ailments. It’s certainly not from drinking. These days I can hardly enjoy one glass of wine without feeling the adverse effects.

I also have to ask, is part of these jetlag episodes a speculative cycle of depression, anticipating the ultimate end of these Travels With Myself? Is that claustrophobic airplane bed too soon to become my sarcophagus, like Ramses tomb?

Regardless, air travel is no longer the joy it once was. (And don’t get me started on the rabbit warren conditions we now experience in airports with ticketing, security and immigration). I think to myself, maybe travel by boat next time. But then, I’ve never been good with motion sickness.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

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