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 withHow to Stay Healthy During a Flight - commercial airliner in flight 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 aboutPassenger aircraft pressure cabin 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.

 View of runway from terminal interior with passenger in foreground


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.Grilled salmon and vegetables on a plate


  • 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 otherGlass of water 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.


Airliner landing on runway

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

Pernilla Kohler

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.

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15 thoughts on “How to Stay Healthy During a Flight

  • By Alice - Reply

    These are really great tips on how to stay healthy during a flight.

    I don’t enjoy flying because I often get dizzy and nauseated as a result of the sudden change in altitude when the plane takes off. Of I will feel much better eventually once the plane is already up in the clouds and can go to sleep.

    Chewing gum is something I never forget to bring with me on a flight but I don’t want to drink lots of water because I hate repeated bathroom trips once inside the plane already.

    By the way, I will be going on vacation next month and be taking connecting flights so these tips have come at the right time. Thanks for posting, I’ll make sure to remember these so as to have a comfortable flight.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Alice, thank you for sharing your feelings about flying. I’m very glad to hear that you find these tips useful.
      Yes, the sudden change in altitude when the plane takes off can be more or less comfortable depending on aircraft type/size and weather conditions. At take-off I suggest you relax your body and look straight ahead (avoid looking through the window) or close your eyes and breathe deep in and out a couple of times. Chewing gum can also be helpful and relaxing at take-off.
      I do understand why you don’t want to drink lots of water during a flight. It is not the most pleasant thing to visit the bathroom in such a crowded space. Not to speak about the long queues. I do recommend though, you drink plenty of water the day before your flight and that you at least drink a couple of gulps of water every hour during the flight. If you drink too little you’ll surely get a headache or feel dizziness. There is also a bigger risk for vein thrombosis and you’ll be more vulnerable to catching a cold.
      Alice, I wish you a wonderful vacation and a most comfortable flight!
      If you have any questions concerning healthy living, please do contact us, I would be very pleased to help you.
      (passed on from Pernilla)

  • By Matt's Mom - Reply

    This was a really great read! Your suggestions for staying healthy on a flight are wonderful. I had never thought of some of them, like taking hand sanitizer with me. Now that I think about it, this is a great idea. I think that is the one place that I cannot avoid a cold. Also, the chewing gum is another great idea. I have horrendous ears as it is, and I usually take a Sudafed. I like the gum idea better. Thank you so much for sharing this great information.

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m very pleased that you find these tips useful.
      I do recommend to have sanitizer with you wherever you go, not only when flying. Keep a mini hand sanitizer or disinfecting tissues handy in your handbag. Then you can quickly clean your hands when you want to eat something on the go.

      If you have a cold and you have to fly, then I would recommend that you still take a product containing a decongestant to relieve sinus pressure and congestion. Another good tip is to drink water, because water may thin mucus for better sinus drainage. So, when you start feeling ear pain drink water. Chewing gum does not have a decongestant effect. Chewing or yawning forces the Eustachian tubes open, but won’t help the pain disappear fully if the tubes are swollen.

      I wish you comfortable flights and if you have any questions concerning healthy living, please contact us. You can reach Steve here or me at my Healthy Living site. We will be happy to help you.
      (Reply passed on from Pernilla)

  • By Eliane - Reply

    These are very good tips on how to stay healthy during a flight.

    I personally love to travel and have followed some of these instructions. They work wonderfully. Drinking lots of water and wearing loose comfortable clothing are the top two, in my opinion.

    When my kids were babies I would make sure that – during take-off and landing – they either drank something (like she suggested) or had their pacifiers in their mouths.
    This helped a lot and they hardly ever got ear pain.

    Great tip about the disinfecting tissues, too. From now on, I’ll also make sure my kids take and use them when traveling by themselves.

    Thank you so much for the great article!

  • By Pernilla - Reply

    Eliane, I appreciate your comment, thank you so much!

    Traveling with babies and kids can be a challenge – you just want them to feel OK. During my work as a Flight Attendant I would help children by giving them something to drink, sweets to chew on and something to play with. That put them at ease and relieved their ear pain a bit.

    Disinfecting tissues are very practical, not only for travel. Always keep them handy in your handbag. Your kids can keep some in their school bags or pockets. When eating on the go or visiting a rest room, these offer a way to avoid microbial exposure.

    Wish you and your family comfortable flights to many exciting places. If you have any questions about healthy living, I’d be more than happy to help you.


  • By Eugenio Oseguera-Figueroa - Reply

    Hello Steve and Pernilla:
    Great advise to fly comfortably. I live at a place 7,500 ft (2,250 m) above sea level (thin air). I used to fly a few times on a weekly basis while working for the agriculture government agency but I did it on a Cessna or helicopter, which never reach such high altitudes.
    Drinking water, avoiding alcohol or caffeine, disinfecting tissues or gel are all very helpful.
    Very helpful website as well. Greetings from México.

  • By Pernilla - Reply

    Eugenio, many thanks for joining the discussion and telling a bit about your flight experiences. We are very pleased to hear that you find this information helpful.

    Living at an altitude of 7500 ft means that you are adapted to a lower oxygen level, which also means that you are most probably less susceptible for air sickness and dizziness. People living at very high altitudes are also less likely to get a cardiovascular disease.

    Drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and having disinfecting tissues handy are all things we should be aware of at all times, but especially when flying.

    We wish you comfortable flights and if you have any questions about healthy living or isolation, we are always happy to discuss them with you.


  • By Rawan Hajjar - Reply

    Hello Steve and Pernilla,

    Great advises for a safe healthy trip, you took into consideration every single aspect during a flight
    A flight for me means the beginning of a fun trip, but what makes me worry sometimes is that I have a low blood pressure, and I try always to keep control on myself during the whole flight, so my pressure would not drop.
    Do you have tips or advises for such a case?

    • By SteveT - Reply

      Thanks for joining the discussion, Rawan. I expect Pernilla will respond soon, but meanwhile I’d like to mention an additional site that specifically addresses ways to deal with hypotension (low blood pressure) while traveling. Here is that link. Most of the advice they offer for air travel is the same as Pernilla advised in this post; the main thing seems to be hydration, and the importance of drinking lots of water before and during the flight.

      Because the airlines don’t always provide all the water we need, when we need it, I’ve begun using a collapsible water bottle that I can fill after clearing airport security, as Pernilla suggests. I use a bottle with plenty of capacity so I always have all the water I need. Maybe if I had low blood pressure I would bring two of them on long flights.

      I did notice that the site I suggested mentions compression hose as a consideration for travelers with hypotension. I haven’t heard about these specifically for low blood pressure before, so I’m eager to see Pernilla’s thoughts on compression stockings in your case.

      Thanks again for stopping by,

  • By Pernilla - Reply

    Rawan, I also want to thank you for your comment and your well-justified question. I have constantly low blood pressure myself, and have had so all my life. Actually, having high blood pressure is a bigger risk. It is different to work onboard compared to be a flight guest, sitting down in a congested space for many hours. As it says in the article that Steve recommended, lack of movement may cause a decrease in blood pressure, which is fully correct. In addition, if the blood is thicker than normal, because of lack of fluid, blood pressure may decrease.

    While working as a Flight Attendant I never had a health issue because of my low blood pressure. But the critical thing is not low blood pressure, but rather the prevention of blood clotting. Because if the blood clots it can lead to a thrombosis. Therefore, it is of great importance to drink enough water as well as move your toes and limbs every now and then and take a small walk along the aisle.

    Wearing compression stockings is a very good idea. These squeeze the leg, which helps the blood to be pushed back towards your heart. If you know of having an increased risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DTV), you should always wear compression stockings while traveling, not only when flying but also during all traveling sitting down for many hours. I can recommend you wearing these stockings as well, it would ease your mind, being on the safe side so to speak.

    If you don’t have allergies, a low dose of Acetylsalicylic acid (i.e., Junior Aspirin) is recommended before departure. Aspirin reduces the risk of the blood to clot. I, myself take an Aspirin before boarding a flight, just to prevent blood clotting. If you are uncertain about having an allergy, please do contact your physician.

    Hope you find this information helpful. I wish you comfortable and enjoyable flights.


  • By Melani Lukito - Reply

    Hi, Pernilla. This is very useful tips for people want to go abroad by plane. I will take the tips into my consideration when travel by airplane. Thank you very much.

  • By Pernilla - Reply

    Hello Melani,

    How nice of you to leave a comment. Thank you for your kind words. Glad you like the tips and tricks about how to have a most comfortable flight.

    If you have any questions before your next flight, don’t hesitate to contact me at easystepsforhealthyliving.com.


  • By Jerome - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this excellent article on how to stay healthy during a flight. You provide some really great tips that will be very helpful for travelers and you speak from experience. I was really unaware of the effects that pressure has on our bodies and I thank you for elaborating on it. I once was on a flight that had a baby that seem to have been having difficulties with the change in cabin pressure. A flight attendant offered a couple of warm wash cloths to the mother to place on the baby’s ears. After a minute, the baby stopped crying. Don’t know how is helped but it sure seem to have worked. Thanks again for sharing these excellent tips to help airline travelers.

  • By Pernilla - Reply

    Jerome, thank you very much for joining this discussion. I appreciate your opinion about my article. Yes, pressure is an invisible power. As it is invisible, we are just not aware of that it’s effecting our bodies.

    You have made an interesting observation of the flight attendant offering the mother warm wash cloths to place on her baby’s ears. In fact, there is no medical evidence to support placing warm wet cloths over the ears, neither covering them with cups. Nevertheless, it is often offered by the cabin crew, I often did it myself, because it has a soothing and comforting effect. The psychological part of this action is of great importance. It helps to relax the body and belief often heals better than any medication.

    If you’d like to know more about pressurization, please have a look at Steves articles on this website, for example “Best-places-for-isolating-yourself-and-others”.

    We both wish you comfortable flights and if you have any questions about healthy living or isolation, we would be happy to answer them.


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