Increase comfort on long flights

While the thought of air travel can be exciting, in reality it’s often exceedingly boring and frustrating. In fact, long-haul flights can be downright unhealthy. I just got back from a visit to Hawaii, an epic journey from hotel to home that took me through five time zones.

The outward flight was delightful. I arrived tired but relaxed, the layovers just long enough to exercise and work out the kinks. The planes weren’t full, so I could spread out over the next empty seat and enjoy myself.

However, the 18-hour return trip was hell. Connections were late, crowded and noisy. Worst of all was an eight-hour connecting flight on which I got the last available seat, stuck in the middle of a bank of five. I had difficulty getting out to stretch, the seats were jammed together and the baby behind me seemed to cry all night.

Reduce discomfort
If you’re planning on making a long-haul trip in the foreseeable future, the following tips will help reduce the potential for discomfort:

  • Aircraft cabin humidity is usually between 20 to 25 per cent, far less than we enjoy in our homes. As a result, drying of the nose, throat a eyes can occur, so drink lots of water and juice.
  • If you have dry or tight skin, use a moisturizer. I use a rosewater spray on my face and it really refreshes.
  • If possible, wear glasses instead of contact lenses (contacts can cause your eyes to become irritated).
  • If you suffer from allergies or asthma, dry air could aggravate your symptoms. Consult your doctor about possible medication.
  • Before and during the flight, avoid or limit consumption of alcohol, tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks which can cause dehydration.
  • Travellers with heart, lung or blood conditions may not be able to tolerate the lower amounts of oxygen in the aircraft. Consult your doctor before traveling to determine if there may be need for medical assistance.
  • Be sure to take your prescription drugs in your carry-on-luggage, especially if you’re on medication for heart disease, diabetes or seizures.
  • If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, request a seat over the wings and try to schedule your flight on a large, wide-bodied plane.
  • Eat a light meal that’s easily digested. Avoid foods and liquids that can cause gas, such as beans, cabbage and beer.
  • Walk around the cabin whenever possible and exercise your legs and arms while in your seat. 
  • Relax. Sitting in an upright stationary position for a long period can affect your blood circulation.
  • Dress for comfort, not style.
  • If your feet have swollen after a long flight, do plenty of walking once you reach your destination.

Upon arrival, eat only a light meal and follow this up with a short nap (no longer than 45 minutes). Once awake, take a short walk outside in the fresh air, and eat an early dinner before retiring for the night. Before you know it, you’ll be in synch with the locals.

John Macdonald is chairman of the Canadian chapter and director on the international board of the Society of American Travel Writers.