Most airplane design improvements focus on enhancements to either safety or passenger comfort, but a new line of Airbus jets has done a little bit of both. Believe it or not, the company’s latest aircraft line is specifically designed to alleviate the effects of jet lag. The new line of A350 XWB jets cost Airbus a $15 billion investment, and the planes are already headed to the skies as part of Qatar Airways’ international fleet.
The effects of jet lag are exacerbated when the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle doesn’t match up with the sunrise and sunset hours of your surroundings. Biologically, the body produces more of a hormone called melatonin when the sun goes down in order to cue sleepiness. Many hours spent in a pressurized cabin without natural light can throw off that natural circadian rhythm. And of course, so can waking up in a new city in the dark of night when your body thinks it’s lunchtime.
To mitigate jet lag, Airbus equipped the A350 XWB with a few new updates. The first lines the passenger cabin with panels of LED lighting that can make subtle or drastic changes to the ambient color temperature. With up to 16.7 million light settings to choose from, the system can easily switch from the cool tones of dawn or dusk to a warmer daylight setting. The LED system is programmable to cycle through based on flight duration or in relation to the time zones that the plane is passing through.
Airbus’ new jets also feature a frame made of plastic reinforced with carbon fiber, which is a more lightweight solution than has been used in the past. Other than boosting fuel-efficiency, the reinforced plastic jet frame is less susceptible to corrosion than traditional aluminum. Cutting out the risk of corrosion makes moisture a less risky option in the plane. That way, the cabin can be pressurized to 6,000 feet instead of 8,000 feet, keeping humidity levels higher for passenger comfort.
Even if not all researchers agree that high cabin pressure and low environmental humidity makes jet lag worse, more moisture will make for a more pleasant flight. On the A350 XWB, seats are also about an inch wider than the standard in economy class, and a new wing design reduces ambient noise. Qatar Airways services routes between the US, Asia, and Europe, which can rack up in-flight hours quickly and leave travelers with painful jet lag symptoms. Airbus hasn’t released official measures of jet lag reduction in passengers yet, but most frequent fliers can probably agree that any little bit helps.