How Long Flight Travel Affects Your Health

Posted on Mar 6 2019 - 9:15pm by Katie Tejada

Air travel is taxing on the body even on the best of days. What happens to your well-being onboard an airplane isn’t always pretty. A combination of cramped spaces, pressure changes, low-humidity, and higher exposure to germs make it much easier to fall ill while you’re on the move. Travelers on long-haul flights may experience strange sensations, dehydration, and difficulty falling asleep — a recipe for vacation disaster.

So before you navigate through the TSA Checkpoint and hop aboard your next marathon flight, learn some of the effects of long flight travel on your health. With a few simple tricks, you can combat some of the top culprits that can ruin your holiday plans. Luckily, a little bit of prevention can go a long way for frequent fliers!

Problem 1: Slow Circulation

Poor circulation is one of the most common health problems air travellers experience on a long distance flight. With only a few inches of space in front of your knees, keeping the blood flowing on board is difficult. For travellers who fly more than four hours, the chance of developing a blood clot increases. The risks are even higher for certain groups of travellers: women on birth control, travellers who have undergone recent surgery, or senior citizens are especially at risk.

Sitting with feet flat on the floor for hours on end can lead to the blood pooling in your veins and cause problems like deep-vein thrombosis.

Solution: Swollen feet and lower limbs can be prevented by following these helpful in-flight routines:

  • On longer flights, get up and move around at least every two hours.
  • Step aboard armed with compression socks to help promote circulation and keep your feet feeling fresh.
  • Drink plenty of water and wear loose clothing during the flight.

Other on-board techniques like the “flex and point” exercise can help your feet stay active, even in a stationary position. It’s simple: point your toes like a ballerina and then flex them back. Repeating something as simple as this while you sit in turbulence can decrease the symptoms of poor circulation.

Problem 2: Catching Colds

Another unwelcome result of air travel is the increased likelihood of catching a common cold. Studies show that your likelihood of catching a cold after air travel increases drastically. With so many passengers huddled together in close quarters, all the sniffling, coughing and wheezing is hard to avoid.

Solution: Come prepared with some immunity-boosting supplies and prepare to take a few preventative measures en route.

  • Make sure to put a small container of hand sanitizer in your carry-on luggage.
  • Stock up on daily vitamins before, during, and after travel.
  • Keep your distance when you can. There’s no need to rush into that crowd ready to disembark if you don’t have to!

Another useful trick? Keep baby wipes on hand and wipe down that airplane tray before you put food on it. Avoid touching surfaces that you don’t need to touch. Other common sense rules go without saying: wash your hands frequently, eat healthy meals full of fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of rest.

Problem 3: Sleep Disruption

Speaking of getting plenty of rest, sleep disruption is another health-risk that you can definitely avoid when you travel. Being tired or jet-lagged can decrease your immunity meaning that making sure you feel well rested makes for a more pleasant (and healthy!) journey.

Solution: There are a few simple steps you can follow to help enhance your sleep on a plane.

  • Grab a few comfort items such as a compact travel pillow, cosy travel wrap, or warm slippers.
  • Make sure you invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. Prepare yourself with some relaxing music to accompany the flight.
  • Try natural supplements like melatonin to get you in the mood for rest.

Sometimes, it’s worth planning ahead and thinking about your seating. If paying a bit more for a choice seat or extra leg room will help you rest, the investment will pay off when you feel more refreshed upon arrival.

Problem 4:  Dehydration

Drinking enough water before take-off is tricky business. It’s hard to find the middle ground between drinking too much water and having to get up out of tight quarters multiple times to use the restroom (and expose yourself to more germs!).

Solution: Our best advice is to begin your hydration process a few days before.

  • Reduce or avoid coffee and alcohol altogether.
  • Find portable drinkware that is functional and clips to your backpack or carry-on.
  • Before take-off, grab a bottle of coconut water.

If you’re worried about bringing your full bottle of water through security — don’t. There is always a dumping station nearby, and you can always refill your water on the other side. Don’t forget to hydrate your skin too. Marula oil is a multi-purpose product that works wonders to combat that dry and flakey feeling in the air and can be used to smooth hair frizz as well, and Korean sheet masks are also great to carry onboard, and will keep your skin feeling fresh and hydrated while being mess-free.

Problem 5: Pressure Changes

That ear-popping feeling is all too common amongst travellers. Although it’s more of an annoyance, air pressure changes can really have an impact on your health. Gas expands at high altitudes, so if you’re feeling a bit more bloated than normal, it’s not just in your head.

Solution: Here are some things to avoid and keep in mind before you fly.

  • It’s best not to indulge in that huge buffet before departure. Stick to lighter meals instead.
  • Keep some gum on hand to combat that annoying popping in your ear.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks and stick to plain water.

Air travellers have also reported feeling sore teeth while traveling which is the result of your fillings expanding at higher altitudes. All the more reason to make sure you have some great movies on standby or other onboard entertainment to distract you from all those weird feelings linked to pressure changes!

Despite the health risks of a long-haul flight, cross-country travel is now becoming more common and more economical for travellers. With the world’s longest flight now taking almost 19 hours (from Singapore to New York City), learning how to combat the effects of a long-haul flight is now more important than ever. Prepare yourself today for your next trip!

Katie Tejada

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About the Author

Katie Tejada is a writer, editor, and travel enthusiast. With a love for adventure and the great outdoors, she enjoys writing about various places, events and destinations, but also covers other topics as well, including real estate, finance, and law, among others.