Traveling can be a big process, especially when you’re flying. It can be hard to relax, stay healthy, and feel safe. This applies whether you’re flying for work or for pleasure. Below are some tips on how to make your air travel more healthy and happy.
Path to improved health
Before your flight
One key to air travel is to prepare ahead of time. If you are carrying on a bag, make sure it has things you need onboard and that it's easy to reach. This includes any medicine you need, as well as snacks and drinks. You can’t take liquids through security, but you can take an empty water bottle. A lot of airports now have bottle-friendly water stations to fill up. Pack healthy snacks, like fresh or dried fruit, veggies, trail mix, or granola bars.
Other helpful carry-on items include:
- disinfectant wipes
- hand sanitizer
- facial tissues
- cough drops
- earplugs or earphones
- blanket, pillow, or eye mask.
Pack enough of your medicines to last your whole trip in your carry-on bag. This prepares you in case your checked baggage gets lost. It also is smart to take extra medicine with you in case your return trip gets delayed. Remember to bring along the names and dosages of all of your medicines. Ask your doctor if your dosages need to change if your eating and sleeping times will change at your destination.
If you have diabetes or epilepsy, you should travel with your ID card. For instance, the American Diabetes Association provides medical alert cards. Carry your doctor's name and phone number with you in case of an emergency. If you have a severe food allergy, travel with proper safety measures, in case of exposure.
If you travel a lot or haven’t flown recently, you should plan to get a flu shot. This acts as a boost for your immune system. Some companies sell vitamin supplements that claim to make you less likely to get sick when you travel. These claims have not proven to be true. There is some evidence that taking vitamin C can shorten the duration of your cold symptoms. There is no evidence that vitamin C (or any other vitamin) makes you less likely to catch a virus.
Try to get plenty of rest beforehand. It’s also important to eat a healthy meal and hydrate. Nutritious food at an airport can be tough to find, so plan ahead. Last but not least, don’t forget to use the restroom before takeoff. There’s nothing worse than needing to go when you can’t.
On your flight
Before you sit down and buckle up, use a disinfectant wipe. Clean your seat, seat belt, and tray table, all of which contain germs. If you need to adjust your overhead light or air vent, use hand sanitizer afterward. The same applies if you touch anything in your seat back pocket.
The air pressure in the plane can change throughout the flight. It is strongest during takeoff and landing. Some people find that chewing gum helps to ease pressure on your ears. You also can wear earplugs and swallow often. If you have ongoing ear problems, talk to your doctor before flying to make sure it’s safe. He or she might suggest taking a decongestant medicine in advance to help.
Airplanes and the high altitudes at which they fly create a very dry setting. You can stay hydrated with the water you brought along. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you. If you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow to prevent spreading any germs. You can use the tissues or cough drops you’ve packed to help treat any dry symptoms.
Certain people are at risk of getting blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), but it can happen to anyone. To prevent these in flight, try to stay active. You can’t typically walk around, unless you’re going overseas. However, you can engage your muscles while seated. Tap your feet and stretch your calf muscles. If you are at risk, your doctor might suggest wearing compression socks.
Planes also tend to be cold. Cover yourself with a blanket or clothing you brought from home. Do not use the provided blankets or pillows, as they may not be clean. If you can, try not to eat the food served on board either. You don’t know what it contains or how fresh it is. This can be harder if you’re flying international. Instead, eat before you fly, and carry on snacks or a meal.
After your flight
Now that you’ve flown, how can you stay healthy? To manage jet lag, you can:
- Adjust to a new time zone by going along with the local meal and sleep schedules.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol.
- Eat well-balanced meals.
- Avoid overeating.
- Exercise as much as you can.
- Use sleep medicine, like melatonin, but not long-term.
Things to consider
Talk to your doctor before flying if you’re pregnant, sick, or have health conditions. You might need other protection, like vaccines or medicines. Your doctor also may not recommend flying in certain medical states.
If you need to take oxygen when you travel, you'll need to tell the airline in advance. Federal air regulations don’t allow you to carry your own oxygen unit on a plane. Most airlines can provide you with oxygen for a fee. You also can make plans ahead of time to get oxygen for layovers between flights and at your destination. If you are handicapped, you can arrange for wheelchair assistance.
Keep in mind, it also is dangerous to fly after certain activities. One example is scuba diving. You need to wait 12 to 24 hours after diving before you can fly. Ask your diving teacher or a doctor for more information.
Anytime you fly, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Do not watch baggage for a stranger or pick up something that isn’t yours. And keep all of your items with you and accounted for.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How much water should I drink when I fly?
- Are there any vaccines I should get or medicines I should take before I fly?
- What medicines can I take if I’m scared or anxious about flying?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.