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How to Minimize the Negative Effects of Plane Travel

How to Minimize the Negative Effects of Plane Travel

Flying by airplane hasn’t been “half the fun of getting there” for decades. (Whatever happened to meals?) While much has changed, factors like the pressurized cabin and lack of humidity can still affect passengers. We’ll look at four common effects of air travel and turn to the experts and airline crews, many of whom are seniors themselves, for ways to make your flight as enjoyable as possible.

Effects of Flying — What Are They and How Do I Minimize Them?

The International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association have released a report that details the effects of flying and offers helpful tips to keep you comfortable while flying. These are the same tips that frequent fliers and crew members use every day.

Cabin Pressure Changes

At cruise altitude, cabin air pressure reaches the equivalent of 6,000-8,000 feet above sea level. Your body can experience reduced oxygen levels, bloating and gas, and/or middle ear pressure. It’s also normal to feel more tired than usual due to reduced oxygen. Alcohol affects you faster at altitude, so it’s best to take it easy on the alcohol or avoid it altogether. On short flights, you probably won’t feel any of these effects other than a little ear popping on descent.

If you have a medical condition that affects your breathing, check with your doctor beforehand and ask if you should order supplemental oxygen from the airline. On long flights, walk up and down the cabin aisle to prevent the formation gas bubbles. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends that if you have ear problems, fly only after obtaining a doctor’s release due to the possibility of “membrane rupture or middle ear bleeding.”

Crew tip: Wear loose clothing or clothing with an elastic waistband and comfortable shoes to accommodate bloating. (Crew members’ uniform pants and skirts are often one size larger than they would normally wear off-duty.)

Lack of Humidity

The air in the cabin can be bone dry.

Everyone — not just seniors — feels certain effects of flying on longer trips: dry eyes, lips, and skin, as well as throat irritation. These symptoms can be kept to a minimum by sticking to water and avoiding coffee, tea, and alcohol. Pack throat lozenges, hand lotion, and eye drops in your carry-on bag.

Crew tip: Avoid citrus juice because it can irritate your throat. Pack a washcloth in your carry-on luggage — placing a warm, damp washcloth over your face for a few minutes feels like a little slice of heaven on a long flight in a dry cabin.

Recirculated Air

You’re breathing around 50 percent stale air that can be mixed with germs from other passengers. Airborne diseases can travel quickly on aircraft. If you’re not feeling well, try to avoid flying until you’re feeling better.

Crew tip: Instead of using the airplane pillow, fold your jacket or coat inside out and use it to cushion your head.


Today’s airline seats tend to be small and tight. This can lead to stiffness, especially in the legs. In some cases, sitting in your seat too long can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially dangerous condition defined by Mayo Clinic as “a condition in which a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs.” If you change positions in your seat often and walk through the cabin when the aisles are clear, you’ll arrive at your destination feeling good and refreshed.

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