Food or extra sleep? Air crew advises ‘stay up or go hungry’

You’ve got a long flight ahead of you and you’re dog tired. Should you choose between staying up for food or extra shut eye? It’s a question that has been giving many passengers sleepless nights.

Air crew have responded to the question with the advice: stay up or go hungry, because they won’t wake you for the dinner service. If you snooze, you lose.

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

On a popular flight attendants’ forum on Reddit, a passenger told the story of how their mother was left hungry on an international flight to the United States.

“It was dinner and we were both sleeping during the time and we were skipped and she had to call the flight attendants back to us.

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“Are you guys not supposed to disturb us?”

Cabin crew were quick to respond that if you’re not awake and ready, with your tray table down, they’ll assume you’d rather be snoozing.

“If you’re in first class, maybe business, we ask you during boarding, ‘if you’re asleep should I wake you?’,” responded one attendant.

“Otherwise I assume you’re asleep because you want to be.”

Other airlines have come up with novel solutions for sleeping passengers to communicate with cabin crew.

For a while, Emirates included colour-coded ‘do not disturb’ stickers in amenity packs, allowing passengers to indicate if they would like to be woken for food, duty free, or just left to snooze. Sadly these were discontinued during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I used to love the stickers in the amenity packs that was essentially a DND sticker. You’d place it on your seat back and get 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 for a meal they don’t want. “With that being said, if a flight attendant skips you because you were sleeping and you still want to be served, we just expect you to let us know and we will gladly bring you your meal or drink/snack!”

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

Normally with evening flights over 5 hours, a meal is served shortly after takeoff, then out go the lights. You know the drill.

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

Sleep, meal and light exposure for the cabin is carefully controlled to minimise jet lag.

With the arrival of ultra-long haul flights, air travel has become more disorienting for our sleep patterns. Back in 2019, passengers on Qantas’ trial flights from Sydney to London saw such assaults to their circadian rhythm as two sunrises and supper being served at 10am local time to help adjust to the time difference.

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

Passengers were even provided with a colour-coded plan of time zones and the optimum times for getting rest, meals to promote awakeness and even exercise.

In future you might be woken between meals and for stretches.

“From a research point of view, it was something quite novel,” said Qantas’ sleep science advisor Professor Corinne Caillaud.

The menu was designed with help from Charles Perkins Centre to promote either wakefulness and sleep.

“We are hopeful 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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