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Health in Flight

10 Tips for Plane Travel

Many people experience some form of discomfort or sickness when they travel by plane. Dry mouth, aching limbs, swollen ankles — they’re par for the course on plane rides and they are, in fact, caused by the very environment you’re traveling in. That means there’s nothing you can do to eliminate these issues entirely, but you can take a few steps in the right direction.

Cabin pressure creates an environment akin to being 8,000 feet high — similar to being on a mountain. As a result, it’s not uncommon for sitting and breathing to feel more challenging, and the low humidity means your body can become dehydrated.

Here’s how to feel your best when you’re in the air:

1. Drink more water.

Hydration will help you handle anything air travel sends your way. Water is the most accessible option, and electrolyte-heavy beverages — like sports drinks — can also help in certain instances. Avoid caffeinated beverages (and diuretics) like coffee and soda. You should drink a bottle of water for every hour you’re in the air; the increased bathroom breaks will offer an additional opportunity to stretch your legs.

2. Drink less alcohol.

Alcohol presents a double threat to airplane wellness. Not only does alcohol make it more difficult for cells to absorb oxygen, which will worsen your altitude symptoms, but it also dehydrates your body faster. So if you’re feeling stressed about flying, opt for a non-caffeinated tea instead of a stiff drink.

3. Pack for hydration.

Low humidity on planes can be a real problem. While a comfortable indoor humidity is anywhere from 30 to 65 percent, the humidity inside an airplane cabin is only around 10 to 20 percent. As a result, you and your body will feel better if you pack a good moisturizer for dry skin and eye drops like saline solution, especially if you wear contact lenses. Just remember to pack a travel size to get past the TSA.

4. Prepare your immune system.

Getting a cold on a flight isn’t the result of poor air quality or recycled air; it’s more likely due to a combination of excessive germs and your body’s compromised ability to deal with them. Hundreds of people have touched what you’re touching and everyone is breathing — sometimes sneezing — in the same confined space for multiple hours. You can pack disposable wipes for the tray tables, but your best defense is getting rest and staying hydrated.

5. Flex your calves.

Immobility can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), sometimes called “economy-class syndrome” in travel talk. It’s still unclear whether flying scientifically raises the risk of DVT, but prolonged (more than four hours) immobility is unhealthy in any context. However, you only need to contract your calf muscles — for example, by tapping your feet, which also moves the shins, thighs and hip joints — to get the blood flowing. Walking to the back of the plane or using the restroom are also easy, inconspicuous ways to keep your blood flowing.

6. Stretch everything else.

While less crucial than leg stretches, if your body is going to be in one position for a long time, stretching is a good idea. Bring your chest down to meet your thighs to stretch out your back, and reach out in front of you to get your arms, too. For more involved airplane moves, you may need to get out of your seat and find a space — probably near the back of the plane — to stretch.

7. Sleep near the window.

While you shouldn’t count on restful sleep on the plane, it could be an opportunity to rest during your travel, particularly if you’re facing jet lag. If you plan to catch some shut-eye, opt for a window seat. Not only will you have control over the window shade (and sunlight), but you’ll also be out of the way of climbing seatmates or people bumping into you in the aisle. Also, pack a neck pillow.

8. Make your own legroom.

Baggage fees encourage most travelers to bring their luggage on board, meaning overhead compartments and space under the seat in front of you fill up fast. If you have the opportunity, pack only the necessities in your carry-on to give yourself the most amount of legroom possible.

9. Dress comfortably.

Travel attire is an increasingly personal decision, but regardless of how trendy you choose to dress, layers are key. Airplanes tend to be cold, but the ability to add and remove layers will be incredibly helpful as you acclimate to different airports and maybe even climates.

10. Breathe.

Take a few deep breaths when you’re settled into your seat. Not only will breathing and meditation techniques help if you’re stressed or nervous about flying, but adjusting your breathing rhythm can also help you adjust to a new altitude.