Wellness and Staying Healthy on a Plane

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Wellness on a plane

Read our guide to wellness during your flights, including common problems such as flying anxiety, jet-lag, ear pain and DVT. Complete with travel flying tips to prevent problems when flying.

Psychological Wellness

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Flying can be a stressful and worrying time for first-time flyers but also for the most seasoned of travellers. This section provides tips and guidance for avoiding stress and ensuring psychological wellness.

Anxiety

Some people suffer from a fear of flying (aerophobia) which is when people experience extreme worry and increased anxiety when travelling. This can be linked to fear of planes themselves, but also claustrophobia or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). For some people, a fear of flying comes from external factors, such as turbulence or flying through bad weather, but can also come from within the individual and their emotions. To help combat a fear of flying, passengers can consult their doctor, complete fear of flying courses, travel with emotional support animals or have therapy sessions.

Stress

Even without anxiety or fear of flying, any passenger can experience increase levels of stress when travelling. You can work to minimise possible stressful experiences you may encounter to make sure you are fully prepared. You can check-in online to reduce the amount of things you need to do when arriving at the airport, perhaps allowing time for some retail therapy with airport shopping. You can also check what items you are allowed to fly with, so that you are not left stressing if you have any prohibited items in your luggage. You can also get a TSA Precheck, or Global Entry, so that you will be able to fast track through security, immigration and customs queues.

Physical Wellness

When you fly on a plane, there are some conditions that are more common. Find out if you are at risk of them and what you can do to avoid them.

Jet lag

Jet lag is a condition which affects people who have had a disrupted sleep pattern when their body changes sleep patterns. Although sometimes it is unavoidable on long-haul or transatlantic flights, there are certain steps you can follow to reduce the symptoms of jet lag:

Before you travel, ensure you are well-rested and relaxed, trying to gradually enter the sleep pattern of your new destination. For example, if your new destination is in a later time zone, try to go to bed later and wake up later before you travel. You should also avoid excessive exercise, eating large meals and drinking alcohol and caffeine.

On your flight, you can ensure you stay well hydrated, by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol. Although high-quality sleep is not always possible when flying, you can stay rested with eye masks or earplugs. However, you should only sleep if you would be sleeping at that time in your destination. Avoid caffeine as this will make the effects of jet lag worse.

Once you arrive at your destination, try to fit your sleep schedule into the new times of your destination as much as possible. Do this by avoiding sleeping during the day, and setting an alarm in the mornings to avoid oversleeping. Going outside in the natural light during the day will also help your body adjust to the new timezone. If your trip is for less than 3 days, it may be beneficial to not adjust your body during this time, and stay on home time to avoid having to adjust your body clock twice.

Jet lag is natural to experience, and doesn’t usually require any medication or medical attention. The symptoms, which include difficulty sleeping, tiredness, concentration and indigestion, will usually disappear after a few days once your body has gotten used to the times of the new destination. Passengers can also choose to fly on a more modern plane, such as the Airbus A380 which has mood lighting which is reported to minimise jet lag.

 

Skin Dehydration

Due to the air filtering systems on planes, and harsh air conditioning systems, your skin can sometimes feel the dehydrating effects of flying. There are certain things you can do to minimise these effects:

 

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the clotting of blood within a deep vein in the body, usually in the legs. This usually occurs when sedentary for large periods of time, which restricts the flow of blood in the legs, such as when travelling by plane. People are not usually at risk on short-haul flights, but instead on longer-haul of flights of eight hours or more.

Although anyone is at risk of developing a DVT, people with the following conditions are at an increased risk of developing a DVT:

  • History of DVT, pulmonary embolism, or having a stroke (read more advice about flying after a stroke here)
  • Increasing age
  • Medical conditions such as cancer or heart failure
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Recently undergone surgery (read more advice about flying after surgery here)

If you are affected by any of these conditions, or are worried about your risk regarding DVT, you should seek your GP or doctor’s advice before travelling to check you are safe to fly.

When travelling, you can follow some simple steps to reduce the risk of developing DVT on a plane:

  • Visit your GP. Don’t leave this to the last minute, as you may need to obtain medication or flight compression socks.
  • Wear flight socks. These work by keeping the blood flowing in your legs, preventing clotting and swelling. These must be fitted and worn correctly as this could increase risk of DVT.
  • Drink plenty of water on your flight, and avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.
  • Walk around the plane whenever possible, and do some anti-DVT exercises to get blood circulating around your body.

 

Ear Pain and Pressure

Why do you get ear pain when flying?

Ear pain when flying is normal and affects most people, but some cases can be more severe and more painful. It happens due to the rapid changes in altitude when flying, which changes the pressure in your ear. Although your ears would normally adjust to the changes in pressure, it happens too quickly, at a rate your ears can’t adjust to. This can cause discomfort and pain in some people, with some people reporting muffled hearing or stuffiness in ears.

Tips to correct and prevent ear pressure building up:

  • When you feel pressure building up, usually during take off and landing, you can yawn and swallow to prevent release the pressure. Try having a sweet, or chewing gum to aid the swallowing process.
  • Avoid sleeping during take off and landing, as you will not be able to release the pressure gently with swallowing or yawning.
  • Use the Valsalva manoeuvre when you feel the pressure changing. This is where you blow through your nose, keeping your mouth shut and pinching your nose to equalise pressure in your ears.

Babies and children are more subject to the pain and discomfort from not being able to relieve the built up pressure inside their ears, as they are unable to follow the above steps to reduce the pressure. Tips for helping them relieve pain and pressure include giving them a drink of water or a sweet to encourage swallowing, try encourage them to yawn, and keep them awake for takeoff and landing. For more information about flying with children, read this page.

 

Common Colds, Germs and viruses

To avoid catching common colds or viruses in planes, you can follow these tips to avoid the likelihood of catching one:

  • Eat healthy to keep your immune system ready to fight off bacteria. You can bring your own food and drink onto the plane with you, if you adhere to the airline and country rules for carrying food and drink. Alternatively, you can pre-order a healthy airline meal if you are on a longer journey and want a hot meal.
  • Come prepared with anti-bacterial wipes so that you can wipe down your immediate area on the plane, including seats and tray tables. Make sure they are permitted on your flight. Read more about what items are prohibited on a plane here.
  • Get plenty of sleep as lack of sleep can weaken your immune system.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your nose, mouth and eyes and keep your hands clean by washing them regularly.

 

Flying with a bad back

Having a bad back can be uncomfortable and painful at the best of times, and going on a plane can often make it worse because you are sitting in confined spaces for a long period of time. There are some things that you can do to alleviate any aches or pains you have when flying with a bad back:

  • Ask your doctor for advice and assistance
  • Contact the airline to see if there’s anything they can do to help such as assistance in carrying luggage, priority boarding or even wheelchair assistance
  • Choose the time of your flight wisely if you can to select quieter flights, where there is more likely to be spare seats where you can stretch out on. Red-eye flights are often cheaper than other flights, and are often less busy than other flights later in the day
  • Bring any over-the-counter medications that you may need with you. It may be best to take medication before you board your flight so that it has time to work before the flight departs. However, it is best to follow a health professional’s advice on how and when to take it. You can learn more about flying with medication here
  • It is good to have pillows or a roll behind your back to provide support during longer flights. If you are on a long-haul flight, there will often be pillows available, which you can request from the flight attendant. Alternatively, if your baggage allowance allows, you can bring a neck pillow or back support with you in your hand luggage
  • Consider pre-selecting your seat so that you can choose a seat which suits you. If you know it will help being next to the window so you have something to lean on, choose that, or if you know you’ll want to be up and moving around the plane during the flight then consider getting an aisle seat (where you’ll also have more leg room in the aisle)
  • Because staying in the same stationary position for long periods of time adds stress to the spine, it is a good idea to move around during your flight. If there is enough room in the plane, consider doing some stretches to ease the stiffness in your back

General Tips for Wellness on a Flight:

Healthy eating on a plane

Stay healthy and boost your immune system with some fresh fruit if you are allowed to bring it on the plane with you. Alternatively, order a healthy in-flight meal to have on your plane.

Drink less alcohol

Drink less alcoholic beverages on the plane, and instead buy it at duty-free in the airport and package it up to enjoy at your destination.

Choose your seat

Each seat has different benefits; seats next to window has less contact with everyone else, but aisle seat means that you can get up and walk. Select your preference when you book a seat with Alternative Airlines.

Seek your doctor's advice

As mentioned, the information on this page is for guidance and general advice only. Each individual is different and should seek their doctor’s advice before travelling if they are concerned about their health. You should also ask your doctor's advice about any travel vaccinations you may need for the country you are travelling to.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is always good for you, so be sure to stay hydrated when flying as you are more subject to dehydration which causes a variety of problems.