Air travel typically signals the beginning of your trip and can be exciting in and of itself. However, there are some drawbacks to flying with dozens of strangers — and one of the biggest is the potential health risks it could pose.
You want to be at peak health when you get off the plane and start your vacation or business trip, so it's a good idea to take some precautions. Here are six air travel health tips that can help ensure your next flight is successful.
1. Be Prepared for Anything
One of the key health tips to keep in mind while traveling is to pack smart and be prepared. The American Academy of Family Physicians offers a valuable list of must-haves if you need some help with your packing list. Obviously, you can't bring beverages on the plane but you can bring the following:
- High-protein snacks
- Granola bars
- Gum to chew for elevation changes
- Cough drops
- All your medications for the duration of your trip (luggage can get misdirected or lost, so you should keep these with you)
- Diabetes testing supplies
- Antibacterial wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Facial moisturizer
- Eye mask, earplugs or headphones
- An extra sweater (this can function as a blanket or neck pillow)
You're typically allowed to bring a small carry-on and a personal item onto the plane, so make sure that everything you need is accessible in those bags and that you know where to find these items without digging through your bags and disturbing your seatmate.
2. Wear Sunscreen
If you are a frequent traveler, you may be surprised to learn that there is an increased risk of skin cancer for pilots, according to a study in Environmental Health, as well as heightened risks of skin and breast cancer for flight attendants, according to the International Journal of Cancer. There is still more study needed in this field but since planes fly closer to the sun, it makes sense for frequent flyers to wear sunscreen.
3. Avoid Alcoholic Beverages on the Plane
Even if you deal with anxiety and think a stiff drink will help calm your nerves, it's a better idea to skip the alcoholic beverages while flying. Reasons vary from the dehydration caused by alcohol in an already dry environment to the fact that alcohol affects a person more strongly because of the reduced oxygen in the air, as noted by aerospace medicine specialist Quay Snyder in an interview with the Washington Post. It could also make it more difficult to kick jet lag after you arrive at your destination. Stick to water and decaffeinated beverages until you touch down.
4. Wipe Down Surfaces You'll Touch
Have you ever flown on a plane that had a short layover? The flight attendants do the best they can to clear out trash and tidy for the next round of passengers, but it's not like they can disinfect every surface before it's time to take off again. If you're concerned about coming into contact with germs, take those antibacterial wipes that you packed and wipe down the tray table, armrests, seat belt buckles — everything you'll touch during the flight.
5. Flex Your Muscles
One of the most classic air travel health tips involves avoiding deep vein thrombosis (DVT). For people who are prone to these serious health concerns — including those with poor circulation and those who smoke, are pregnant, have recently had a surgery or have heart disease or certain cancers — it's a good idea to take some precautions for DVT while flying. Here's what Harvard Medical School suggests:
- Get comfy, loose-fitting clothing and shoes.
- Don't cross your legs during the flight.
- Try to get up and walk the aisle every hour. Request an aisle seat to make this easier.
- Consider wearing compression socks while flying.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
- Ask your doctor if an anticoagulant or small dose of aspirin would benefit you during the flight.
If you have any concerns about DVT, don't hesitate to discuss them with your personal physician. They can provide specific guidance for your situation.
6. Read the Safety Card
Commercial air travel is extremely safe, especially when compared to traveling in a car. However, there's a reason we all have our own personal copy of the safety card and the flight staff always reviews the precautions before takeoff. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you would need to do in an emergency by listening to the safety briefing from the flight attendants. Once you've reviewed the most important points, you can relax and enjoy the flight.
Wherever your flight may take you, we hope these health tips to use while traveling help you arrive at your destination in good health!