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 healthier and happier.
Path to improved health
Before your flight
One key to air travel is to prepare ahead of time and pack smart. The first thing you should do is check travel advisories and restrictions. This will warn you of any disease outbreaks or extra safety precautions you should take. In some instances, these reports may notify you to reconsider or cancel your travel plans.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to wear a facial mask in the airport and on the plane. Wearing a facial mask can help keep you and others from getting sick. If you are or think you may be sick, it is best to see your doctor beforehand or avoid flying. You do not want to spread germs knowingly or arrive at your destination and feel worse.
If you are traveling with a carry-on bag, make sure it is easy to reach and has everything you will need onboard. This includes all medicine, required forms of ID and travel documents, and any snacks and drinks. Travel with an empty water bottle so you can stay hydrated. 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 medicine in your carry-on bag to last your whole trip. 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 your medicines. Ask your doctor if your dosages need to change if the 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. It’s also a good idea to take a copy of your basic medical history. You can ask your doctor to print you a copy of your medical history. This will help if you end up needing to see someone while you are on your trip.
Whether you travel a lot or haven’t flown recently, you should plan to get a flu shot. You also may consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine. These can boost your immune system and help prevent illness on the plane and at your destination. 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 before you fly. It’s also important to eat a healthy meal and hydrate. Nutritious food at an airport can be tough to find and flights may be long or delayed. Finally, 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, arm rest, 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. If you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow to prevent spreading any germs.
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 or drink water. 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. If you are traveling with an infant, try feeding them or using a pacifier to promote swallowing and help release pressure.
Certain people are at higher risk of getting blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This includes people who smoke, are pregnant, are have obesity, had surgery recently, or have heart disease, cancer, or a history of DVT. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms of DVT and the precautions you should take. Suggestions often include wearing loose, comfortable clothing as well as compression socks. Get up once an hour to walk or relax your muscles if you can. If that is not an option, you can engage your muscles while seated. Tap your feet, flex your ankles, stretch your calf muscles, and try not to cross your legs. Ask your doctor if you should take aspirin or an anticoagulant (blood thinner) before you fly.
Flying at high altitudes with reduced oxygen and humidity in the air creates a very dry setting on planes. You can stay hydrated with the water you brought along. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you. You can use the tissues or cough drops you’ve packed to help treat any dry symptoms.
After your flight
Now that you’ve flown, it’s important to remain healthy. Below are some tips to help prevent or manage jet lag.
- Adjust to a new time zone by following the local sleep and meal schedules as soon as possible.
- Listen to your body and rest when needed.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
- Eat well-balanced meals and avoid overeating.
- Exercise as much as you can.
- Use sleep medicine like melatonin, if needed, but not long-term.
Things to consider
Talk to your doctor in advance if you are pregnant, sick, or have a chronic health condition. You might need other protection, like vaccines or medicines. Your doctor also may recommend avoiding air travel with certain medical conditions.
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 can be 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. 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?
- I’m pregnant. Is it safe for me to fly?
- Should I do anything special when I travel if I have a chronic health condition?
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.