What is Place Lag? —

And how long does it take to traverse the Earth by plane?

When Jules Verne wrote Around the World in Eighty Days in 1873, circumnavigating the globe in less than two and a half months was still a questionable proposition. But nearly a century and a half later, it is now feasible to traverse Earth in exactly 52 hours and 34 minutes – thanks to modern commercial aviation. Of course, the achievements of passenger air travel are not without their side effects, chief among them jet lag. Cross it with culture shock and you end up with another affliction that nobody in the 19th century could have predicted –what the jet set call place lag.

According to airline pilot Mark Vanhoenacker, who coined the term in his memoir Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, place lag is “the imaginative drag that results from our jet–age displacements over every kind of distance; from the inability of our deep old sense of place to keep up with our aeroplanes.” Where jet lag leaves travellers wide–eyed at midnight because their circadian rhythm has yet to adjust, place lag is drawing the curtains open the next morning to suddenly realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s saying merci to a cashier in Bangkok because your mind hasn’t caught up with your manners. Or waiting for your Uber on the wrong side of the road in London because it arrived on the right side in Toronto yesterday morning – or was it this morning?

December 2, 2019
Animated gif of a man looking into a pool

“Really, culture shock is what Vanhoenacker is talking about,” says Sue Frantz, president of the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology. “His twist on it, though, with place lag, is the speed at which it happens.” As Frantz explains, we all have baked–in sets of schemata for how we expect the world to operate. When these schemata are altered, we experience the jolt of the unfamiliar. In the jet age, a traveller going from London to Montreal can have breakfast twice in the same day but receive a concerned look the second time they order a side of bangers. “I like to think about it as psychological whiplash,” says Frantz.

Those who embark on long journeys and short stays are more likely to be waylaid by the temporary torpor. Fortunately, frequent flyers tend to be the most comfortable with occasionally feeling up in the air.



Around the Clock


Playing with real–world time travel.

  1. The world’s longest birthday Why confine your special day to the 24–hour clock? In 2015, a German man broke the Guinness World Record for the longest birthday by hopping between different time zones. The birthday boy started in Auckland, New Zealand, flew backward in time to Brisbane, Australia, and then across the International Date Line to Honolulu, Hawaii. By spending 13 hours and 10 minutes in the air, he made his 26th birthday last 46 hours.

  2. The international concert Phil Collins is likely the only musician who has managed to play the same concert on two continents on the same day. On July 13, 1985, two Live Aid shows were held to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia: one at Wembley Stadium in London, and one at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. After his set at Wembley, Collins flew by Concorde to New York, then grabbed a helicopter to Philly where he played drums for Led Zeppelin.

  3. A flight to last year Want to ring in the New Year twice? If you book the right January 1 flight, you will be able to take off in 2020 and land in 2019. Redoubling New Year’s Eve is so popular that people have even chartered private jets for the purpose of partying all night, all day, and all night long again.