The prospect of 20-hour, ultra-long-haul flights and how passengers will cope has provided impetus for a study of potentially tens of thousands of people.

The University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre will study Qantas customers using wearable technology to find out how they respond to being in planes.

Qantas chief customer officer Olivia Wirth said the airline's ambition of flying from the east coast of Australia to London and New York had added an additional level of research requirements around long haul flying.

"It's an exciting new frontier and we are eager to see how we can improve our understanding by taking a more scientific approach to the onboard experience of our passengers," she said.

Qantas and the centre have already worked together to influence cabin lighting, cabin temperature, meal timing and recipe development for the 787-9 Dreamliner which will fly the 17-hour Perth-London service from next March, as well as the design of the new transit lounge in the Western Australian city.

Professor Steve Simpson, academic director of the centre, said the research would be cutting edge and translated directly to help passengers and crew cope with the long range flights which the Australian airline and some other carriers are planning.


Aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus are close to developing planes that, with a full load, would be capable of flying from Australian and New Zealand cities to destinations on the US east coast and Europe.

''We will start recruiting passengers into our trial, we're hoping to ultimately recruit tens of thousands. There will be a series of things that they could agree to do and we would provide wearable devices to monitor physical activity, sleep, blood pressure and heart rate while on board,"' he told the Herald in Seattle, where Qantas picked up its first Dreamliner this week.

''Beyond that we can start providing information before they leave."

Passengers could receive messages with advice on when to go to bed to get in sync with the destination, advice on being physically active and when to expose themselves to natural sunlight.

Simpson said jet lag was felt when your body clock becomes out of sync with your destination's time zone.

On top of that, there was lower atmospheric atmosphere in a dry aircraft cabin which could be hard to sleep in, and physical activity levels were lower.

The body clock was synchronised by the master clock in the brain and it does that through hormones that it releases - melatonin being the best known.

''If you want to start advancing or retarding it, you can do it by using external cues - light, temperature, food and physical activity," he said.


''There are specific detectors in the eye that detect short wavelengths of light and feed inputs to the master clock in the brain, and if you provide a flash of that light you could elicit the appropriate response from the circadian system and help the body clock readjust."

When it came to food, the principal precursor for making melatonin was an amino-acid, tryptophan.

Foods rich in that will promote sleep - they include poultry, especially turkey, soy, nuts, and seeds.

But there is also another hurdle.

''For tryptophan to get into the brain, it has to compete with other amino-acids and you can improve this if you also provide carbohydrates."

Special menus were being developed and other measures would also be used, such as dropping the cabin temperature when it is the ideal time to sleep.

Professor Simpson's advice on avoiding jet lag
•Enjoy yourself and have a drink with a meal if you wish, but ''not do a Boony" (as in Australian batsman David Boon, who reputedly drank 52 cans of beer flying home to Australia from London).
•Set your watch to the time at the destination a day or two in advance and know when dawn and dusk is. Shift your sleeping pattern around this if possible.
•On a flight, try to sleep at the appropriate time relative to the destination
•Try to avoid very fatty or sugary food.

•Grant Bradley travelled to Seattle courtesy of Qantas and Boeing