Positioning Yourself for That Meeting in Morocco

Getting some shut-eye on long flights isn't always easy. But it's possible.
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Here's a pop quiz for business travelers.

You're on a flight to London from New York. You've got a meeting shortly after you arrive. What's the best way to stay productive in the air?

    Read the latest trade magazines and industry reports. Pull out your laptop and catch up on your expense reports. Sleep.

If you answered C, give yourself a peanut. Seasoned business travelers say that when you're on a long-haul flight, especially from west to east, it's best to set work aside and get some shut-eye.

In the airline business, sleep is a valuable commodity. This year, airlines are spending millions of dollars on the issue. Business and first-class passengers spend thousands of dollars on a single trip that promises a rested arrival.

UAL's

(UAL) - Get Report

United Airlines

and

AMR's

(AMR)

American Airlines

have introduced seats that fold into flat beds on their new Boeing 777s. On some older aircraft, they're ripping out first-class reclining seats and replacing them with seat-beds.

"We're converting our whole fleet of 747s," says Matthew Triaca, United's manager of media relations. "It's what the first-class customer wants. They want to see a difference between first class and business class." Pacific-based airlines, including

Singapore Airlines

,

Qantas

and

Air New Zealand

, also offer the so-called sleeper seats in first class.

British Airways

(BAB) - Get Report

launched the idea in 1996 with its "flying bed" and garnered rave reviews from rested passengers. Since then,

Virgin Atlantic

has raised the stakes, as Traveling With Wings

reported recently.

These airborne beds don't come cheap: A first-class ticket on the New York-to-London British Airways flight will set you back about $9,000.

Executives who have flown flat on their backs say it's worth the money. "It's wonderful," says Thom Nulty, CEO of

Associated Travel

in Santa Ana, Calif. "The very best way to go on a long trip is to lie on a bed with a pillow after a cocktail and a good dinner. You relax, and eight hours later you're at your destination." Nulty, who has flown on British Airways and tested samples of seat-beds offered by United and American, says eight hours of sleep in the air prevents 36 hours of grogginess on the ground.

Easier said than done, you say? Never fear, Traveling With Wings is here to help you prepare for those meetings that are important enough to fly halfway around the world for -- particularly if you aren't one of the lucky ducks who can afford a flying bed.

Position is everything. Horizontal is best. If you can't plunk down thousands of dollars for a flying bed, the next best thing is to lie in a row of empty seats. Ask at the check-in counter if the flight is full and try to get a seat in an empty row.

"The agent is your best friend," says Sharon B. Wingler, a flight attendant for

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

and the author of the book

Travel Alone & Love It

. If you can't get a row to yourself, try to sit by the window so you can rest your head on the side of the plane. Don't sit by the bathroom. "The smell will kill you," Wingler says. Avoid seats that don't recline, usually against the bulkhead or in exit rows.

When she's flying as a passenger, Wingler brings a set of "props" to help her sleep. In her kit are an inflatable neck pillow ("put the airline pillow behind your lower back," she says), a pair of thick socks, earplugs "in case there's a screaming infant," a slumber mask and a CD player with relaxing music.

William Tomicki, publisher of

Entree

, a newsletter for sophisticated travelers, has an even more elaborate carry-on kit. He brings a gadget called the Extreme NoiseBuster he bought from

Magellan's

, a catalog of exotic and practical travel gear. A small box with a set of headphones, the Extreme NoiseBuster cancels out the sounds in the cabin, and "all you hear is a very pleasant white noise," Tomicki says.

According to Magellan's

Web site, Extreme NoiseBuster is a tiny computer that analyzes sound waves and duplicates the frequency, sending an "antinoise signal" into the headphones. The box also has a stereo jack for a radio, CD player or tape player.

Tomicki's other gadget from Magellan's is Air Supply, a small air purifier worn around the neck. "The air smells fresh, like after a rain," he says.

Extreme NoiseBuster, $69, and Air Supply, $99, are popular items for Magellan's, says Jack Kotowski, its marketing manager. But its bestsellers for sleep are old standbys: inflatable pillows selling from $9.85 to $29.85, and a slumber mask and earplugs kit for $4.85. Herbal pills intended to help prevent jet lag also sell well.

Travelers disagree on the need for sleeping pills. Tomicki takes Ambien and says he has suffered no side-effects. Wingler prefers a glass of cabernet to a sleeping pill.

"If there were to be an emergency, you'd be impaired" with a sleeping pill, she says. "They don't wear off that easily."

The newest type of sleeping pill, Ambien has less of a hangover effect than some other pills, but you "need to go to sleep when you take it, or you'll be really confused," says Max Hirschkowitz, associate director of the

Baylor College of Medicine Sleep Disorders Center

in Houston. He doesn't recommend taking the drug if you can't get at least three to six hours of sleep. For instance, don't take the pill if you have to leave the plane within a few hours to catch a connecting flight. And don't drink any alcohol with sleeping pills or you could suffer memory loss, Hirschkowitz says.

Whether you're flat on your back in first class or crumpled up in coach, try to make your space as cozy as you can. Tomicki tells of a friend who brings a silver-framed photo of her children and a bud vase with a rose on long-haul flights.

"This is space you have paid for," Tomicki says. "You have the right to make it comfortable."

Christi Dunn is a Houston-based financial writer. Previously, she was a high-tech business reporter for The Tribune in Phoenix, business editor of the Democrat-Gazette in Arkansas, and editor of the San Antonio Business Journal and the San Diego Business Journal.

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