We are most fortunate to have a guest author this week to help us find practical steps to deal with the challenges of isolation during air travel. Pernilla Kohler is a writer particularly qualified to address this topic. Ms. Kohler writes the powerful health blog Easy Steps for Healthy Living filled with great information on practical ways to live better, healthier lives. Combining that health knowledge with extensive professional experience in-flight, qualifies her as an exceptional choice to explain how to stay healthy during a flight. Please enjoy these great tips, and share them with friends, family and colleagues.
Health & comfort, even on a crowded plane?
I’m honored to share this guide for staying healthy and comfortable during a flight. As you read in Steve’s post Best Places for Isolating Yourself and Others, an aircraft cabin is an isolated space with special conditions to consider.
During my service as Flight Attendant for a leading European Regional Airline, I flew nearly 6000 flights at a rate of four to six flights per day. It was an exciting experience, flying high up in the sky, attending passengers to their business or holiday destinations. Since childhood I have been fascinated about aircraft and flying. It still fascinates me that such big vehicles can take off and fly in the air and keep us passengers warm and safe even at 35000 feet (10600+ meters) above sea level.
Why are Aircraft pressurized?
An aircraft is not perfectly sealed. It is hardly possible to seal such a huge structure. The solution to this is to constantly pump outside air into the cabin. With help of the pressurization system barometric pressure in the interior of the plane is similar to outside pressure at about 7000 feet, even while we are flying at the altitude of 35000 feet. This system makes travelling at high altitudes tolerable for passengers and crew.
As the aircraft climbs towards higher altitude, our lungs take in less and less oxygen molecules. Why is that so? Because the higher the altitude, the thinner the air. Therefore, occupants of an aircraft need help breathing as there isn’t enough oxygen in a breath of air to adequately supply the brain. If it weren’t for the pressurized cabin, the passengers and the crew would soon be unconscious and in the end, suffocate. The pressurization system keeps a constant flow of clean, fresh air moving through the aircraft. The air inside the airplane is completely changed every two or three minutes making it far cleaner than the air in your home.
How does a flight affect the body?
Despite the pressurization system, it isn’t like being at ground level. It actually has the same effect as being at the top of a large mountain. At the altitude of 7000 feet the human body still gets enough oxygen to function normally, but the lower level of oxygen can cause ill effects like fatigue, headaches and dizziness for some passengers on long flights. Other symptoms of a long flight are dehydration, a sore throat, ear pain, heavy legs and swollen limbs. Persons with heart or lung disease may need supplemental oxygen, even if they don’t normally use it. Always ask your physician for advice several weeks before your flight. If you need oxygen, call your airline to find out its policies and the cost. Remember, bringing your own oxygen is prohibited on commercial aircraft.
How to stay healthy and comfortable onboard?
To make the flight as comfortable and enjoyable as possible I recommend you to prepare yourself before boarding the aircraft and follow a few simple rules during the flight.
Before the flight
- Get plenty of sleep the night before your flight.
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes on the plane. Loose fitting clothing with breathable fabrics won’t constrict veins or blood flow so you stay comfortable.
- Dress in warm layers or carry a light, foldable blanket or shawl as well as a travel pillow in your carry-on-luggage. On long haul flights blankets and pillows usually are provided, but on shorter flights these are not always available. Cabin temperatures may vary a lot throughout flight. Window seats and seats near doorways tend to be the coldest.
- Consider taking a pair of ear plugs, especially if it’s a long-haul flight – you most certainly want to have a quiet sleep for a couple of hours during the flight.
- Cabin air is very dehydrating so drink plenty of water before the flight. Before a long flight I recommend you to drink more water than usual the day before.
- Fluids can’t be taken through security checks to the gate area. Buy a bottle after clearing security or bring an empty water bottle to fill at a water fountain.
- Avoid Alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated drinks to avoid dehydration.
- Eat a healthy meal before you board, preferably a smaller portion than usual. Choose dishes with plenty of vegetables and lean meat, avoid heavy pasta dishes. You’ll sleep better and you’ll avoid an upset stomach.
- Use a public restroom before you board – then you don’t have to queue for the toilet right at the beginning of the flight.
- I highly recommend to take disinfecting tissues or a small 100 ml bottle of hygienic hand sanitizer with you because aircraft interiors and airports are very unhygienic. There are thousands of other travelers, each bringing their own microbes from all over the world. To avoid infection the best advice is to clean your hands thoroughly and frequently. Be sure to clean your hands before handling food. Avoid touching your face and rubbing your eyes.
- Make sure that you have chewing gum in your hand luggage. Swallowing, yawning and activating muscles in your jaw helps to alleviate ear pain. If you are prone to sinus congestion, it may also be wise to bring decongestant medication and use it well before the landing approach.
- If you are at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), it is of great importance to see your physician before you travel. They may suggest wearing compression stockings during the flight and/or prescribe medication for your trip.
During the flight
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids to ensure you stay well hydrated. I would advise between one and two cups of water per hour.
- Avoid Alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated drinks. If you choose to drink alcohol on a flight, be sure to drink plenty of water and have something to eat while drinking.
- Consider wearing glasses instead of contact lenses, because the dry air in the aircraft cabin can irritate your eyes if you have contact lenses in.
- Perform simple exercises during the flight to help boost the blood flow. Bend and straighten your legs, press the balls of your feet down hard against the floor, and walk around the cabin when you can. Avoid taking sleeping pills, as these can put you into a deep sleep, meaning you won’t be able to move for a long time. If pregnant, request an aisle seat so you can get up easily.
- Keep the space under the seat in front of you empty so you can exercise your feet and ankles occasionally. If you must have access to a laptop or purse that must be stowed under the seat at takeoff, move it to an empty seat, overhead bin or behind your legs to allow you to stretch out mid flight.
- Avoid crossing your legs while seated, to avoid blood clotting in your veins.
- During the flight, flight attendants do not have the time to regularly clean the toilets. When you have to go to the toilet, I recommend taking disinfecting tissues with you so you can clean the toilet seat. Before flushing always close the toilet lid, to avoid germs spreading to the air, your clothing and skin.
- If you’ve got ear pain at take-off and landing, that’s because of the change of cabin air pressure. Yawning, swallowing, chewing gum or just opening your mouth widely can help.
- If you’re travelling with a baby, encourage her/him to drink during take-off and landing, that results in swallowing, which helps ease or prevent pain in the ears.
- It’s best not to fly with an ear or nose infection, as the swelling can cause pain, bleeding or a perforated eardrum. If you must fly, ask your physician or pharmacist about decongestants to help reduce the swelling in your ears.
By following these guidelines, your flight should be comfortable and safe so you arrive at your best, and ready for work or fun at your chosen destination.
I wish you healthy & happy flights
About the author
Pernilla Kohler lives near Zürich, Switzerland and is originally from Sweden. Since she loves to visit her family and friends, travel is always part of her life. She also enjoys visiting other countries, reading, and soaking up the natural beauty while walking and jogging. A student and practitioner of healthy living for more than a decade, she shares this passion in her health blog. In her blog you’ll find information, recommendations and tools for living a healthier life, so you feel fitter, look better and stay young in body and mind.
Follow her blog at easystepsforhealthyliving.com
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you have for Ms. Kohler in the comment box below. We value your opinion, we want to hear from you and we truly appreciate it when you join us in the discussion.