Stretch your legs on long flights

Smaller aircraft seats and a minimal amount of legroom are the components for a potentially fatal medical problem. It’s called "economy class syndrome". While relatively rare, the condition is becoming better known.

Last September, a 28-year-old passenger on a Qantas Airways flight died from "deep vein thrombosis" or economy class syndrome. The passenger died from a blood clot to the brain after spending 20 hours on a flight from Australia to Britain. It is likely that the clot formed in her leg because of cramped seating conditions and eventually moved to her brain.

With the scant 31 inches of legroom mandated by Transport Canada, we are all very familiar with the problem of stiff and cramped legs while flying. Ergonomics experts say that at least 31 inches is the minimum for anybody taller than six feet on a long flight.

Medical experts say that the amount of space is not a direct cause of deep vein thrombosis, but lack of movement is. Passengers who have an increased risk of DVT are the elderly or obese, women who are pregnant or on the pill, and people with cancer or varicose veins. The condition can strike up to a month after a fligh

Some precautions

To reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis on your next flight, consider the following tips:

  • Take a low-strength aspirin, for three days before and after your long-distance flight, as a precautionary blood thinner. Check with your doctor first.

  • Book an exit row, a bulkhead seat or an aisle chair.

  • Walk up and down periodically during the flight.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. Avoid girdles and stockings with tight, elastic, below-the-knee bands.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

  • Drink plenty of juices and water.

  • While in your seat, contract your calf muscles periodically, by clenching and lifting your toes toward you while your heel is resting on the floor.

  • You can also rotate your ankles clockwise and counterclockwise.