Tips for Healthy Plane Habits

Despite what issues they might have, airlines today are a necessary part of how we travel. Back in 2006, for example, over 28 million flights carried… Trista - March 25, 2020

Despite what issues they might have, airlines today are a necessary part of how we travel. Back in 2006, for example, over 28 million flights carried 2 billion people worldwide. And with air travel growing at around 5% per year, those numbers have only gotten bigger since then. Whether it be a family vacation or whether it be a business trip, commercial airlines allow us to jump on a plane and be virtually anywhere in the world in only a couple of hours. However, that doesn’t mean that flying is a stress-free experience. Whether it be worrying about the mundane of getting to the airport early enough to check-in or whether it be fear of the extraordinary such as a crash, there are plenty of things that can keep someone up the night before a flight especially if that someone has never flown in an airplane before.

Luckily, air travel is, in fact, one of the safest means of travel in the world. In the United States while car crashes killed over 36,500 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 393 people died in plane crashes according to the National Transportation Safety Board. So right off the bat, just stepping on an airplane rather than being on the road drastically reduces the chances that you or a loved one will be involved in a fatal accident. However, that doesn’t eliminate all of the stress of traveling by airline. So here are some tips to try and make flying a less stressful and, ideally, a more enjoyable experience.

You can get ready to fly before you even get to the airport. Shutterstock

Before Going to the Airport

If it’s your first time flying and your feeling stressed out, there are a host of steps that you can take to make things easier for you before you even get on the plane. One of the most obvious steps is to make sure that you get a good night’s sleep before the flight.

Being stressed out and having to deal with being in an airport is hard enough when you’re not sleep deprived. But when you’re trying to navigate from the entrance to your departure gate, it can only help if you fully have your wits about you. Additionally, being in a confined space with dozens of people or more is, of course, going to increase the risk that you’ll be in contact with someone who’s got a bug that can make you sick. A good night’s sleep can help improve the performance of your immune system and reduce the chances that you’ll wind up getting sick as a result.

Additionally, most airlines provide the option of checking in online before arriving at the airport. If you are flying with an airline that provides for this, rather than having to wait in line to check-in at the terminal, you’ll be able to skip straight to security, which will save quite a bit of time on your part. However, not all airlines provide the option to check-in online. And if you need any special assistance, you will have to check-in at the airport. So check to make sure whether or not you can check-in online, and if you can, you will be able to save time at the airport before you get anywhere near it.

Take note of the classifications of luggage airlines use before packing. Shutterstock

Packing Your Luggage

Beyond sleep, not only would it be a good idea to pack well ahead of when you leave for the airport, but also to check that what you’re packing is acceptable under Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) guidelines. The TSA provides a list of what can and cannot be brought with you in your baggage here. Looking up this list before you pack can save you and airport employees all sorts of trouble when you get to the airport. After all, it’d be a pain to get in security after you’ve given the bags you want to check to the airline and find out that the 3.5 oz of toothpaste, water, or drinks that you brought with you in your carryon has to be thrown out since it’s above the 3.4 oz limit. And of course, the earlier you pack, the less stress you’ll have the day of trying to get everything put together in time to get to the airport.

Also, if you haven’t flown before, you should learn about the way baggage is classified and figure out what you will want to take. Airlines divide luggage into three different categories, checked, unchecked, and personal items. Checked items are items that are stored in the cargo bay of the aircraft, unchecked items are kept with you during the flight, and a personal thing is something like a purse or a laptop that you can keep on your person during the trip. On a personal level, the main differences between these categories are size and cost. Checked luggage is larger than unchecked baggage, which is larger than a personal item; however, depending on the airline, a fee might be applied to check bags.

So before you pack, check to see whether checked baggage is complimentary or not and decide whether or not you want to check any of your luggage. Also, since whether an airline will allow luggage to be unchecked or not is based off of both size and weight, before going to the airport if you’re unsure whether your unchecked luggage is within the weight limit, take the time to weigh your luggage to ensure that you won’t be hit with additional fees if your unchecked baggage weighs enough to necessitate that it be checked.

Getting to the Airport

Arriving earlier can help make things go smoother. Shutterstock

Although it may seem obvious, it should be emphasized that the earlier you arrive for your flight, the fewer headaches you will have to endure. Especially during times of the year where many people fly, such as the holidays, airports will be more congested, and the process of getting through all of the rigamarole necessary to get to your flight will correspondingly increase. And if this is your first time traveling by plane, it’ll be a lot nicer to have the time to navigate the airport at a leisurely pace, rather than frantically having to find your way from one place to another.

As such, according to Heather Lissner, a spokeswoman for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, “We recommend the two hours so that travelers have enough time to get dropped off or park their cars, check their bags and get through security to their gates.” While if you’re lucky, this could leave you with plenty of downtime before your flight actually leaves, it should go without saying that that’s preferable to the alternative of arriving too late actually to get to your flight before it takes off.

Security is probably the most time-consuming aspect of flying, and you’re not even on the plane yet. Shutterstock

Going Through Security at the Airport

Once you’ve gotten to the airport and are checked in, you’ll have to pass through security before making your way to your gate. The primary way that the process can be expedited is to be ready for the instructions given to you by TSA screeners as much ahead of time as possible. So, for example, before you get to the scanner, take off and pack away things like belts, shoes, and jackets so that you don’t hold up the line having to take them off at the scanner. Also, always keep your identification and travel documents handy, so if at any point in time you’re asked for them, you don’t have to fish around to find them.

Once you’re through security, you’ll be free to proceed to your gate for departure. Make sure to check, either on your phone or via the monitors located throughout the terminal, the status of your flight, and go to whichever departure gate is listed.

Once you’ve found the departure gate, and assuming you’ve got time before the plane boards and takes off, you can kick back and relax a little. If you’re hungry, you can grab food at any of the restaurants located in the terminal; however, do keep in mind they tend to be pricier. So if you want to save money, bring some food from home. Also, once you’ve gone through security, if you leave the secured area and seek to reenter, you will have to go through security again. So plan on staying in the terminal unless it’s absolutely necessary to leave.

Get ready for the airplane to take off into the sky. Shutterstock

Getting on the Plane

Now that all of the pre-flight agenda has been finished, you can find your gate number and sit in the waiting area. You will be able to view your flight information on a screen, or ask the agent behind the desk any questions you may have at that time. When boarding the plane, listen for your section as certain people, like those with strollers or military experience, will be able to get on before you.

Once your section is announced, get in line with your ticket in hand. The agent will scan it and you will go through the hallway to the actual plane. The airplane crew will great you as you board, and it is now time to find your seat. The staff will help you putting any luggage away. During this time, you can sit back, relax, take in the view, and enjoy the trip. However, many potential issues could arise that you can take action to mitigate or prevent outright.

To start, there are several steps you can do to make your seat more comfortable for the duration of the flight. One of the basic things you can do is to make sure you book a window seat. Among the advantages that a window seat gives is that you won’t have to deal with people climbing over you to get in and out of the aisle. You’ll also have extra space to lean your head on, and you’ll have control over the sunshade. You can also make sure to avoid booking exit row or bulkhead seats, given that the seats don’t recline and lack moveable armrests. If you’re sensitive to smell, avoid booking seats in the back row, near the toilets.

If you’re anxious about flying, try doing everything to can to make yourself comfortable. Shutterstock

Feeling Comfortable While Flying

While you’re in the air, there are several options to make your seat more comfortable and the flight more enjoyable. To start, you can either bring your own blanket or ask a flight attendant for one that the airline offers. Additionally, if it’s something that you find comfortable, you can bring a neck pillow for the flight.

Also, since space is at a premium, you might want to consider taking only what you will absolutely need during the flight in your personal luggage. Also, try and store whatever you will definitely get out during the trip towards the top of the bag, so you don’t have to try to rummage around for something while you’re in your seat.

You can also increase your comfort in the air by carefully selecting what clothing you’ll wear. Choose to wear loose, comfortable clothing and wear layers that you can take on or off depending on how hot or cold you are. Also, wear comfortable and loose shoes to minimize the discomfort from your feet swelling up during the flight.

Hopefully, your flight is fast and easy with less than four hours of flight time, and maybe a stop or two, as long as it has a long layover so you’re not running between gates. Shutterstock

Having a Fear of Flying

Despite flying being the safest means of travel, fear of flying is a common phobia. In fact, it is the third most common phobia behind snakes and spiders. There are a variety of reasons why flying can provoke such feelings. Sometimes it is due to a bad experience on a previous flight. Other times, it can be due to claustrophobia or a fear of heights. And other times, it can be an emotional reaction to news of hijackings or plane crashes. And finally, it can just be a product of a generalized fear of the unknown.

As this isn’t an uncommon phobia, there are many ways to deal with this before and during a flight. One of the most basic options available is to keep your mind busy during a trip. Talk with passengers, read a book, listen to music, watch the inflight movie, just do anything to avoid dwelling on your fears. Also, if you find yourself getting anxious, taking a moment to take deep breaths and to focus on those breaths can help to calm you down.

Further, if you let the cabin crew know about your fear of flying, many of them have been trained on how to address those fears and can help to reassure you about things that might make you anxious. Finally, while you might consider taking a tranquilizer, do remember that many of them should not be used while drinking alcohol.

If you are worried to get up in the air, classes can help to prepare you to fly. Shutterstock

Taking Classes to Get Over Your Fear of Flying

One method of mitigating fear of flying are courses that tackle this phobia. Some airlines run classes that teach a combination of behavioral techniques and aeronautics, which includes primary education about aircraft, what noises they make, what causes turbulence, and so on, to prepare someone with a fear of flying to be able to fly. Some of these courses even finish with a flight under controlled conditions. Current research indicates that these courses are both practical and that the benefit is long-lasting.

If you don’t want to spend money to attend one of these courses, there are free online courses that you can take from the comfort of your own home. One example of these is “Fear of Flying Help,” a course offered by airline pilot Captain Stacey Chance. This course provides a wide range of perspectives on commercial aviation to help put your mind at ease about flying.

For example, the course includes commentary by Dr. Arnold Barnett of the Sloan School of Management at MIT, wherein he describes how air travel is one of the safest forms of travel. Dr. Barnett also explains how media coverage of disasters can skew our perception of the dangers of air travel and offers a number of practical tips to help to overcome a fear of flying.

As you get older, your risk for certain conditions increases. Shutterstock

Being Worried About Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the legs. This can be a substantial issue because of the risk that the clot will break off and travel to the lungs, where it can cause a blockage of the lungs known as a pulmonary embolism.

While there is still controversy over whether flying can increase the risk of a DVT, there are studies that indicate that prolonged immobility, whether it be from sitting in a car, a desk, or an aircraft, serves to raise the risk of a DVT. In combination with immobility, factors such as being older than 40, having had a DVT or a blood clot in the lungs before, having a family history of blood clots, the hormonal effects of pregnancy or hormonal replacement therapy, using oral contraceptives, recent surgery or trauma, and certain types of cancer all raise the risk of getting a DVT.

There are a couple of measures that you can take to reduce the risk of a DVT on a long flight. There is some evidence that compression stockings can reduce the risk of DVTs during prolonged periods of immobility, in a similar manner to how they are used in hospitals. Also, drinking a decent amount of non-alcoholic beverages can mitigate the risk of a DVT. Although Aspirin has been suggested as a further step, the British Civil Aviation Authority recommends against such with the evidence available.

Simple exercise during a flight can not only improve the experience of the flight but can limit some of the adverse health effects of a long trip. Shutterstock

Moving Around in the Air

In addition to the above steps to reduce the risk of a DVT, the best method to reduce the risk, whether in the air or on the ground, of a DVT is to avoid prolonged periods of inactivity. Additionally, simple physical activity during a flight can serve to alleviate boredom, reduces aches and pains, and induces better sleep.

There are many exercises that you can do while in flight that can address all parts of your body from head to toe. The most basic one is, of course, trying to get out of your seat and walking routinely during the flight. Generally, it would be sufficient to take the time every hour to walk up and down the length of the plane. And, as stated previously, there are some exercises that you can do to target specific parts of your body.

Relieving aches in your back and legs can pay dividends during a long flight. Shutterstock

Stretching Your Legs

Exercising your legs will allow you to both reduce any aches you have during a flight, but also reduce the risk of a DVT. Rotating your ankles, standing calf raises, alternating pushing down with your heels and toes, and tensing and relaxing various parts of your legs working up from your feet to your thighs and back down can all make your flight more pleasant and reduce the risk of a DVT.

After a long period of sitting, your back can begin to ache. One exercise that can help alleviate a backache in flight is to bring your chest to your thighs while in your seat, elongate your spine, hold for five seconds, and then gently sit back up. Repeating this exercise two or three times every hour can help your back while sitting on a plane.

Simple upper body workouts might take a little more space, but they’re still useful during a long flight. Shutterstock

Exercising Your Upper Body

To give your arms some exercise, here’s a tip from bodybuilders. Hold your arms straight out in front of you with your hands relaxed downwards. Then tense the whole of your arms and make fists with your hands. Hold for a few seconds, open your fingers until they’re entirely stretched out, and then close again. Repeat this exercise a couple of times.

For your shoulders, sit up straight, clasp your hands behind your head with your elbows to the sides. Then gently pull your elbows backward while bringing your shoulder blades down and together. To do this exercise, you might want to find somewhere with a little space to avoid antagonizing your neighbors on the flight.

Lastly, here’s an exercise you can use to stretch out your neck. Clasp your hands behind your head and gently pull your head to your chest while keeping your spine stretched up. Pull gently until you feel the stretch at the back of your neck into your shoulders. Hold this for a few seconds and then repeat.

Jet lag is a routine issue from air travel. Shutterstock

Experiencing Jet Lag

As a consequence of being able to travel multiple time zones in only a few hours, it can be difficult for a person to adjust from one time zone to another. This results in the combination of fatigue and sleep disruption that is known as jet lag. Until one’s body can adjust to being in a different time zone, a process that can take anywhere between two days to two weeks depending on how different the time zone is, you will be stuck out of synch with the time zone you’re in.

While there is no way to avoid jet lag, there are some steps that can be taken to mitigate its effects. In certain studies, the usage of Melatonin, a hormone that is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, can help people adjust up to 50% of the time. It should be noted, however, that clinical trials have not been done to determine the effectiveness of this in more detail. Furthermore, you can use sleeping tablets to help you adjust, but this is something that should only be done after talking to your doctor. Additionally, you should avoid taking sleeping tablets in flight due to the way that they will encourage the type of inactivity that leads to DVT, and you should avoid drinking alcohol with sleeping tablets.

Where you travel can affect how best to deal with jet lag. Shutterstock

Having Jet Lag While on the Plane

Some other approaches to mitigate jet lag can depend on the direction of travel. After all, if you travel east through multiple time zones, you’ll feel like you’re losing time. But if you go west through numerous time zones, you’ll feel as if you’re gaining time.

If you’re traveling west, try to stay up as late as you can when you get there, since it’s easier to stay up later than it is to try and shorten your body’s natural rhythms. Also, a few days prior to traveling, try going to bed and getting up later. If you’re going east, try to sleep on the plane while it is night time at your destination. Upon arrival, avoid sleeping during the day, since that will extend the amount of time it will take to adjust to the new time zone. Also, where if you’re heading west you should try to stay up later before leaving, if you’re traveling east, try to go to bed and wake up earlier before travel.

It can take several days to a week or two to adjust fully to a new time zone.

Dealing With Jet Lag At the Destination

When you arrive at your destination, there are further steps that can be taken to aid your adjustment to the new time zone. The first step is to do what you can to get into the local routine as soon as possible. Spending time in daylight generally can also help you adjust due to the exposure to sunlight. Also, if you’ve traveled west, try to be outdoors during the morning and indoors during the afternoon. And if you’ve gone east, try to be outdoors during the afternoon and indoors during the evening.

Finally, the level of adaptation that is necessary or desirable depends on the nature of your trip. If you will only be at your destination for a brief amount of time, then it’s probably a better idea to avoid adapting to the new time zone and stay on your local time. Additionally, if you’re traveling for a meeting, you could either arrive early to better adapt to the new time zone or schedule your session for a time that would coincide with when you’d be awake in your normal time zone.