Surviving Long Flights: How to Fly Long Distances and Stay Healthy

Written by admin on December 13, 2012 – 5:15 pm -

Paris bound or, for that matter, traveling anywhere? Air travel is rife with health challenges because planes are essentially flying Petri dishes. Even if you’re 100% germ-free, as soon as you board the flight, chances are one of your neighbors isn’t. Don’t forget the myriad (germ) perils involved with getting to the airport, checking in, clearing security and waiting for your flight to take off.

How many people, surfaces, lavatories and germs will you encounter?  If you stop for something to eat or drink while you’re waiting, the people behind the counter may have the sniffles, the tables are invariably unwashed, at least in recent memory. You may sweep everything to the side or dump it into the nearest trash bin. But don’t count on getting the Good Housekeeping’s cleanliness seal of approval. Whatever you do, if you’re having a drink at a bar, don’t help yourself to a handful of pretzels because you have no idea whose hands have been there before you. Or where those hand have been.

Frequent flyers have many tips and tricks for surviving flights where air isn’t constantly being recirculated.  Pick and choose the ones you like and cross your fingers.

Be as rested as possible. That’s easier said than done since most people are making mad dashes to get away from their offices and homes. Yet, if you’re able to pack a day or two before (less is more) and score some extra sleep before your trip, you’ll be at an advantage.

Medicine and other tips. Take extra vitamins. Many people swear by Airborne. Some travelers say that coating their noses with Vaseline helps with the germ factor.

Drink lots of water (steer clear of liquor) and walk around the cabin when you’re not (hopefully) sleeping or taking catnaps.

Flying overnight. Try to book a flight as late as possible to maximize your ability to sleep. Eat something before you board, carry a stash of nuts, granola bars, fruit and whatever knows your stomach and vice versa.  If you can sleep before the meal is served (and let’s face it, missing most airline meals isn’t the end of the world), you’re ahead of the game when it comes to your rest quota.  The more sleep you’re able to score, the better off you’ll be when you arrive at your destination. Many say that setting your watch at the time of your destination is a trick that helps with acclimating to the new time zone. Remember to fasten your seat belt so if there’s turbulence, a flight attendant won’t need to awaken you.

Be your own thermostat. Since some flights are freezing while others aren’t, and some airlines are no longer dispensing blankets, bring clothes so your body remains at a constant temperature.

The joys of fasting. If you’re on a long-haul flight, there’s no need to eat everything that’s placed in front of you and now is not the time to start sampling different types foods that may not agree with you.

A flight attendant added that since they’re discouraged from taking sick days, many of her colleagues work when they should be home in bed. I bet you didn’t think about that.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Washing your hands when you’ve used the lavatories is essential. And that means the handles since they’re touched by everyone. Many travelers pack wipes and a tiny jar of hand sanitizer. Use them. Don’t touch your eyes unless you know your hands are cleaner than clean. So many people contract infections that way. It may look anti-social, unless you’re in Asia, but an increasing number of people are wearing facemasks. Consider one if it’s flu or cold season.

Create your own cocoon. Even though (and most especially, if you’re going on vacation) you may want to party, DON’T.  Pack good quality ear phones, thick eyeshades, an iPod, iPad (or the equivalent) with your favorite music, books or movies, your computer and try not to speak to your neighbors. This may sound anti-social and it doesn’t always work. If there are empty seats (in the same class of service) dry to snag one or more. This isn’t always possible in these days of planes flying at maximum load factor—but you may get lucky.

Fly in the front of the plane. Not everyone can afford First Class or Business Class tickets and even if you have miles galore, don’t bet you’ll get that precious upgrade. If you’re flying with the masses (and let’s face it, most of us do) try to get a seat as far up in the front of the plane as possible where the air is cleaner.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that business people, who fly all the time, tend to be the least demanding. They don’t perceive a flight as something exciting. It’s a means to an end to get to their destination with the minimum of hassle—flight delays and strikes notwithstanding.

Bon voyage.


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