Although I loved travelling, the ONE thing I dreaded most is air travel as I am very prone to getting blocked ears during take off and landing and had to eat sweets to alleviate the symptoms. It also ANNOYS me greatly when inconsiderate people sitting in front of me recline their seats fully, eating into my limited legroom. There is also a chance of catching an infection from a sick passenger near you due to poor air circulation in the plane (try changing seats perhaps?). So what are some of the effects of air travel?
1. Inflight Spats over Shrinking Legroom
Two recent inflight scuffles over shrinking legroom had caught my attention. In one case, a man on an American Airlines flight fought with a passenger who was trying to recline the seat in front of him. The man raised his voice, followed the flight attendant to the back of the plane and grabbed the flight attendant’s arm, after the latter tried to intervene. Air marshals on board the plane then restrained the troublemaker.
In another similar case over reclining of seat, the incident started on a United Airlines flight because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a device that attached itself to a passenger’s tray table and prevents the person in front from reclining. A flight attendant requested that the man remove the prohibited gadget but he refused. This prompted the woman to turn around and threw a cup of water at the man. In both incidents, the planes had to divert and make an unscheduled landing at the nearest airport and the errant passengers were apprehended and not allowed to continue to their destinations. American budget airlines – Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air – had also removed the reclining mechanisms from their seats, leaving them permanently upright.
- Keep calm and keep flying. After all, there is no point ruining your holiday plans over an inconsiderate prick and get yourself in trouble with the airline and authorities.
- Better still, inform the flight attendant and let them handle the situation.
2. Deep Vein Thrombosis (“Economy Class Syndrome”)
Being immobile for long periods of time is a known risk factor for pulmonary embolism, which can be potentially life-threatening due to the detachment of a clot that travels to the lungs. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the legs, causing pain and swelling in the short-term and a risk of sudden death when the clots travel and reach the heart or lungs. Pulmonary embolism can often lead to organ damage due to deprivation of oxygen and damage to the lungs, resulting in death.
Take the case of Richard Carlson, a 45-year-old man, who had suddenly died of pulmonary embolism on a flight to New York. It was revealed that a blood clot released from his leg traveled to his lung as the plane began to descend.
Individuals with a higher risk for DVT:
- Individuals with a medical history of blood clotting issues
- Individuals who have varicose veins and are prone to leg swelling
- Pregnant women and women on the Pill or hormone replacement therapy
- Individuals who are obese and the elderly
- Individuals who have medical conditions that can affect blood circulation (cancer, stroke or vascular diseases)
- Heavy smokers
- Take food that can improve blood circulation and help strengthen arteries such as dark chocolate, blueberries, grapes, oranges, avocados, ginger, garlic, salmon and pumpkin seeds on board.
- Fly business or first class. For normal folks like me who takes economy class, booked seats at the first row of the plane where there is no one in front of you or try to book seats near the emergency exits (just be prepared to help the crew in case of an emergency landing though).
- Wear comfortable clothing and consider wearing compression stockings (I bought a good pair for $100) if you are prone to clotting.
- Get up to visit the lavatory and walk around the cabin at least once every hour (I always booked the aisle seats too for this reason) and perform simple stretching exercises at the back of the plane.
- Avoid crossing your legs and the consumption of sedatives inflight to reduce inactivity while asleep.
The humidity in an air plane cabin usually drops to around 20%. Some people can experience symptoms such as dry eyes (which can cause problems for contact-lens wearers), dry throat and nose during air travel. Often uncomfortable, this dryness can also lead to infections. The beverages served inflight, such as alcohol, coffee and tea also does not help the situation at all as they have a diuretic (frequent urination) effect.
- Hydrate well by drinking plenty of water throughout the flight, avoiding alcohol, coffee and tea, unless you can compensate with even more water.
4. Lower Cabin Pressure
In order for airplanes to fly faster at reduced fuel costs, the cabin pressure is adjusted, which in turn put a strain on our bodies. The maximum pressure during a flight is still much lower than what you would experience at or near sea level. Research has shown that subjecting a person to this lowered pressure can reduce the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood (hypoxia). Hypoxia can cause dizziness and also increase the likelihood of clotting. Lower cabin pressure can also cause pain or discomfort in your ears (I often experience this), which is made worse by a cold, and it may cause swelling of legs in some people.
- Try swallowing saliva, yawning and sucking on sweets to help “pop” your ears.
- Removing shoes and tight clothing will make swelling less uncomfortable.
5. Jet lag
Travelling across time zones can disrupt regular patterns of sleep and wakefulness. Common symptoms of jet lag include day-time sleepiness, night-time insomnia, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal problems or mild depression. A person traveling across several time zones will experience a temporary desynchronization between the new time zone and his or her internal biological clock.
Your body may feel that it is time to go to sleep while others are starting their day, or you may feel active when everyone around you is in la-la land. Fortunately, our internal biological clock is able to adapt in response to external cues (e.g. light) in the new environment. Generally, it is not advisable to take long day-time naps in the new place to promote a fruitful night-time sleep.
To avoid jet lag, it is important to adapt yourself to the destination’s time zone while you are taking the flight there. The following suggestions might be useful:
- Try to book day-time flights whenever possible.
- As soon as you board the flight, reset your watch to the new time zone.
- Let me give you an example. If I am flying on a 9 pm flight en route from Singapore to Paris (Paris is 6 hours behind Singapore time), I would try to keep myself awake first as it is only 3 pm in Paris now (and too early to be sleeping) and at least have my first meal in the plane. I would catch some sleep at around 9 pm Paris time or 3 am Singapore time to adjust my internal body clock.
- Limit your sleep to no more than two hours immediately after arrival if you arrived at the destination during day-time and try to keep awake until night-time.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Dehydration makes it more difficult for the body to adjust to the new routine.
- As daylight can help to reset your internal body clock, it is advisable to take a morning walk when you wake up.
- Avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
- Avoid having heavy meals just before bed time.
Upon reaching your destination
Apply hydrating facial masks (especially so for people with dry skin like me), enjoy a relaxing massage and catch up on your beauty sleep. 🙂
Please feel free to leave your comments below if you like to share your own travel tips… 🙂
This article has been published in Tripzilla Magazine. All photos are credited to Tripzilla Magazine.