Healthy Air Travel

It’s the time of year when those who suffer through the cold and dreariness of the never-ending winter are flocking in droves to sunny vacation destinations to enjoy some sunshine and relaxation.

Unfortunately for me, I am not among the lucky ones to head to the sunshine this year, but many of my patients are busy making plans for their March break family vacations.

In order to get to the lovely sunny vacation spot, people will be required to sit in an uncomfortable cramped airplane seat for hours at a time, enduring an environment of pressure changes and dehydrating dryness.  Some may also be troubled by motion sickness or exposed to colds and flu by being in close proximity to other travellers. 

This definitely won’t make the highlight reel of your time away :).

Let’s talk about some ways that you can lessen the discomfort of this necessary portion of your winter vacation while staying as healthy as possible.

Before Your Flight:

-If possible, contact your airline about choosing a seat with a bit more room.  If done in advance, you may be seated in an emergency exit row or behind the bulkhead for a little more leg-room.  At the very least, try to get an aisle seat to have better access to moving around during the flight.

-If you are susceptible to motion sickness, schedule a flight on a larger airplane and request a seat over the wings which will make for a calmer, less bumpy ride.

-Make sure you are well hydrated before your flight. The atmosphere of the in-flight environment is very dry and dehydrating.

-Avoid eating a large fatty meal within 3 hours of your flight.  Also avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.  These choices can make handling the pressure changes and the motion of the airplane a little easier.

-Bring chewing gum or hard candies.  Chewing, yawning (or even opening the mouth wide), or sucking on hard candies can help to relieve the pressure that builds up in your ears during the flight especially as the airplane descends on landing. 

-Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes that you can slip off and on easily. (the shoes, not the clothes :))

During Your Flight:

-Try to maintain good posture while seated for long periods of time.  To support your spine, tuck your lower back/butt right into the bottom of your seat and place a pillow or a rolled sweater in the rounded area above your bum at your low back.  Use the footrests on your seat which will also help support your spine and will feel more comfortable.  Using the footrests instead of crossing your legs will also help with circulation in your legs.

-Try to get up and move and stretch your legs.  If you can’t actually walk around, even standing once an hour and giving a little wiggle is better than sitting still for many hours in a row.  This will help to ease back and knee strain and will help to prevent leg cramps. 

-Moving around will also help with your circulation and will help to prevent swelling into the feet and ankles.  Even if you can’t get up and move around, you can rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes.  You can bring your knees up toward your chest and stretch, you can contract and relax the muscles of your calves, thighs and butt to keep blood moving. 

-If you know you have poor circulation, you may want to invest in compression stockings or socks for your travels by air.

-While seated, you can also raise your arms above your head and stretch and move. If your neck and shoulders get tight in a seated position, stretch your neck by rotating your ear to one shoulder, then drop your chin to your chest then back to the other ear.

– Drink lots of water while on board and avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages which will further dehydrate you.  You may also feel the dryness of the atmosphere in your skin and your eyes so bring moisturizer and wear your glasses instead of your contact lenses.

-If you are prone to feeling motion sickness avoid reading and watching videos during travel.  If you feel sick, recline your seat and rest your head on the headrest and close your eyes.  Your vestibular system is the system in your ears that maintains balance and controls your feeling stable.  When it is out of sorts, the result is the nausea associated with motion sickness.  By placing your head on the headrest, you are allowing your vestibular system to work with the motion instead of fighting against it which will make you feel much better.

Remember also that being in close proximity to other people will increase your body’s exposure to viruses and bacteria.  Wash your hands often and well which is one of the best ways to avoid catching a cold or the flu.

So in order to have a much more comfortable and enjoyable flight, keep these tips in mind when you are off on your winter getaway.

Have a great vacation, and please bring me back some sunshine :).




Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

Her eBook Shin Splint Solutions has helped hundreds of athletes get past the pain of Shin Splints and get back to doing what they love.



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  • Sharon O'Day
    February 28, 2011

    Great travel tips, Peggy.  I've spent a good part of my life in airplanes, from single-engine to DC3s to the big guys.  On commercial flights, I fight to always have an aisle seat so I have mobility, especially on long transatlantic ones.  I don't even mind having my seat mates bugging me to get up for them … anything to be free to move about.

    What I've never resolved is how to avoid catching other people's germs, despite hand-washing and sanitizers; traveling is the only time I come down with colds.  Any preventive steps you've found to be effective?

    • Dr Peggy
      March 4, 2011

      Hey Sharon,

      Look for my blog post next week on Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System. That may give you some more ideas to stay healthier and happier while travelling!

  • Fay
    February 28, 2011

    I'm going to put your travel tips into action Peggy when I make the long 28 hour flight over to spend time with you  in a few months time.  Hopefully that way I'll land with a smiling face and happy feet!!

  • PJ McClure
    February 28, 2011

    Great stuff Peggy! Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are a consistent part of my life. Keeping your tips in mind will help ease some of my traveling woes.

  • Lily Iatridis
    March 1, 2011

    Thanks Peggy!  Definitely will be more careful of what I buy to eat and drink at the airport's food court before before I get on my next flight-

  • Judy Upsdell
    March 1, 2011

    Great reminders and very timely!  Thanks
    I enjoy each of your articles because they always remind me of something that you tell me at my appointments.  However I think you forgot to say squeeze those butt muscles when you stand up on the airplane – ha!ha!

    • Dr Peggy
      March 4, 2011

      So true Judy 🙂

      Keep those butt muscles working!

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