Sleep better on planes

Airlines introduce new perks to help premium class travellers get a good night's sleep

NEW YORK • For every inch of lost legroom in the back of the plane, there seems to be one new amenity in the front. A disproportionate number of these new offerings are promising to give you the single thing that is most elusive at more than 10,000m: a good night's sleep.

Here, a snapshot of the most relaxing new perks in the skies - mostly in business and first class; sorry, coach - including a few that might warrant leaving the melatonin at home.  

• Custom bedding: It all started with Delta and the Westin Heavenly bed - the first big effort to improve sky-high sleeping habits back in 2013. Three years later, United is upping the ante. The airline has just announced its new Polaris business cabins, which will begin rolling out in December. One of its major draws is custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue (think ultra-soft duvets, pillows and mattress cushions).

Similarly, the Scandinavian carrier SAS has recently introduced Hastings brand bedding on premium seats. Perhaps the cleverest amenity, though, can be found on Etihad. No matter where you sit on the plane, the brand provides pillows that convert from standard size to neck pillows, along with eye masks that bear the words, "Do not disturb" or "Wake me for meals".

• Aromatherapy: Etihad's pillow sprays and pulse-point oils, courtesy of Le Labo, were first to market two years ago; now the trend is going viral. Travellers on late night flights with Virgin Atlantic can spritz themselves with High Altitude, a blend of fragonia, eucalyptus and lavender, to fall asleep easily, while United is offering lavender-infused pillow spray from the United Kingdom-based, Soho House-affiliated Cowshed Spa.

• Dinner and a nightcap, when you want it: This spring, Air France wised up to the fact that few travellers want to be awakened for dinner service at midnight on an overnight flight. The solution: Let premium passengers take their meals in the business-class lounge before boarding. The service is available only in New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport for now. The concept is taking off: British Airways' Club World Sleeper Service, for instance, lets passengers order meals ahead of their flight departure and enjoy a nightcap on boarding instead.

• Mood lighting: Anyone flying on a new Boeing Dreamliner or the forthcoming Airbus A330neo will benefit from mood lighting that is specifically designed to regulate his circadian rhythm. Alternate cool and warm lighting schemes help passengers fall asleep more easily and wake up feeling refreshed - jet lag be damned. By the time the A330neo is launched next year, nearly every major carrier will be on board with the technology.

• Relaxation videos: Before you scoff at your airline's in-flight entertainment, consider that meditation programming is increasingly popular as it has proven effective for both jittery and restless fliers.

Virgin America has a video series that borrows from Andy Puddicombe's popular meditation app, Headspace; Delta's just-launched, 10-minute flicks are from YouTube favourite, OMG. I Can Meditate!; and British Airways has jumped in with a series from the Mindfulness Institute.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Sleep better on planes'. Print Edition | Subscribe