Your health inflight

Your comfort and safety is important to us during your flight. We’ve put together information and inflight exercises to help minimise the impacts of flying.

Things to know

“Sit back and relax” is what you’ll often hear the flight attendants saying. And while there’s plenty to enjoy with our spacious seats, fresh inflight dining and entertainment onboard, you’re also sitting down for what can be an unnatural amount of time. Combine that with a pressurised plane interior that’s low in humidity and the fact you’re whizzing at high speed across time zones, depending on your destination, and your body can sometimes come out the other end feeling like it’s been on the losing end of a fight with Mike Tyson.

While this often doesn’t pose a health or safety issue, the below advice can help minimise the effects of flying on the body and help you get your trip off to a better start. 

Cabin humidity and dehydration

Humidity levels of less than 25 percent are common in the cabin. This is due to the extremely low humidity levels of the outside air supplied to the cabin. The low humidity can cause drying of the nose, throat and eyes and it can irritate wearers of contact lens.

We recommend you:

  • drink water and juices frequently during your flight
  • drink coffee, tea and alcohol in moderation. These drinks act as diuretics, increasing the body's dehydration
  • remove contact lenses and wear glasses if your eyes are irritated
  • use a skin moisturiser to refresh the skin.

Eating and drinking

Proper eating and drinking will enhance your comfort both during and after your flight.

We recommend you:

  • Avoid overeating just before and during the flight. It is difficult to digest too much food when the body is inactive.
  • Drink coffee, tea and alcohol in moderation. These drinks act as diuretics, increasing the body's dehydration.

Blood circulation and muscle relaxation

When you're sitting upright and inactive for a long period of time, several things can happen.

  • The central blood vessels in your legs can be compressed, making it harder for the blood to get back to your heart.
  • Muscles can become tense, resulting in backaches and a feeling of excessive fatigue during, and even after your flight.
  • The normal body mechanism for returning fluid to the heart, can be inhibited and gravity can cause the fluid to collect in your feet, resulting in swollen feet after a long flight.
  • Some studies have concluded that prolonged immobility may be a risk factor in the formation of blood clots in the legs, deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Particular medications and medical conditions may increase the risk of formation of blood clots if associated with prolonged immobility.

Medical research indicates that factors that may give you an increased risk of blood clots in the legs include:

  • personal or family history of DVT
  • recent surgery or injury, especially to lower limbs or abdomen
  • blood disorders leading to increased clotting tendency
  • immobilisation for a day or more
  • if you are aged above 40 years
  • oestrogen hormone therapy, including oral contraceptives
  • pregnancy
  • tobacco smoking
  • former or current malignant disease
  • obesity
  • dehydration
  • heart failure
  • varicose veins.

Recommendations:

  • If any of these categories apply to you or you have any concerns about your health and flying, we recommend you seek medical advice before travelling.
  • Compression stockings can assist in preventing swelling of the ankles and feet and they may improve the blood return to the body from the lower legs. You may like to talk to your doctor about this. The stockings may be purchased from medical and surgical supply companies and will need to be individually fitted to your leg measurements.
  • While inflight, move your legs and feet for three to four minutes per hour while seated and move about the cabin occasionally.
  • Do the light exercises recommended below in the inflight workout section.

Inflight workout

These exercises are designed to provide a safe way to stretch and enjoy movement in certain muscle groups that can become stiff as a result of long periods of sitting. They may be effective at increasing the body's blood circulation and massaging the muscles.

We recommend that you do these exercises for around three or four minutes every hour and occasionally get out of your seat and walk down the aisles.

Each exercise should be done with minimal disturbance to other passengers. None of the following exercises should be performed if they cause pain or cannot be done with ease.

This video is brought to you by Physitrack, the University of Melbourne and Sports Medicine Australia.

Qantas inflight exercises No Description

Further information can be found in Qantas The Australian Way Magazine.

Exercises to do inflight

1. Ankle circles

Lift feet off the floor. Draw a circle with the toes, simultaneously moving one foot clockwise and the other foot counterclockwise. Reverse circles. Rotate in each direction for 15 seconds. Repeat if desired. 

2. Foot pumps

Foot motion is in three stages. 

  1. Start with both heels on the floor and point feet upward as high as you can.
  2. Put both feet flat on the floor.
  3. Lift heels high, keeping balls of feet on the floor. 

Repeat these three stages in a continuous motion and in 30-second intervals.

3. Knee lifts

Lift leg with knee bent while contracting your thigh muscle. Alternate legs. Repeat 20 to 30 times for each leg. 

4. Neck roll

With shoulders relaxed, drop ear to shoulder and gently roll neck forward and back, holding each position about five seconds. Repeat five times.

5. Knee to chest

Bend forward slightly. Clasp hands around the left knee and hug it to your chest. Hold stretch for 15 seconds. Keeping hands around the knee, slowly let it down. Alternate legs. Repeat 10 times. 

5. Forward flex

With both feet on the floor and stomach held in, slowly bend forward and walk your hands down the front of your legs toward your ankles. Hold stretch for 15 seconds and slowly sit back up. 

6. Shoulder roll

Hunch shoulders forward, then upward, then backward, and downward, using a gentle circular motion.

Cabin pressurisation

All jet plane cabins are pressurised to a maximum altitude of 2440 metres so it’s comfortable and safe for passengers when flying at altitudes over 30,000ft.

The cabin pressure and normal changes in cabin pressure during climb and descent should not pose a problem for most passengers. However, if you suffer from upper respiratory or sinus infections, obstructive pulmonary diseases, anaemias or certain cardiovascular conditions, you could experience discomfort.

Children and infants might experience some discomfort because of pressure changes during climb and descent.

If you’re suffering from nasal congestion or allergies, use nasal sprays, decongestants and antihistamines 30 minutes prior to descent to help open up your ear and sinus passages.

If you have a cold, flu or hay fever, your sinuses could be impaired. Swollen membranes in your nose could block your Eustachian tubes - the tiny channels between your nasal passages and your middle ear chamber. This can cause discomfort during changes in cabin pressure, particularly during descent.

Recommendations:

  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition that warrants supplemental oxygen, you can order it from us. Please give at least seven days' notice before travelling.
  • To 'clear' your ears, try swallowing or yawning. These actions help open your Eustachian tubes, equalising pressure between your middle ear chamber and your throat.
  • When flying with an infant, feed or give your baby a dummy during descent. Sucking and swallowing will help infants equalise the pressure in their ears.

Jet lag

The main cause of jet lag is travelling to a different time zone without giving the body a chance to adjust to new night and day cycles. In general, the more time zones you cross during your flight, the more your biological clock is disturbed. The common symptoms are sleeplessness, tiredness, loss of appetite or appetite at odd hours.

To help minimise the effects of jet lag, we recommend you:

  • get a good night's rest before your flight
  • if possible, give yourself a day or two to adjust to the new time zone after arrival
  • fly direct to minimise flight time, if you can. This allows you to relax more upon arrival
  • try some light exercise, go for a brisk walk, or do some reading, if you can't sleep after arrival at your destination. It generally takes the body's biological clock approximately one day to adjust per time zone crossed.

Motion sickness

This ailment is caused by a conflict between the body's sense of vision and its sense of equilibrium. Air turbulence increases its likelihood because it can cause movement of the fluid in the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear. If you have good visual cues (keeping your eyes fixed on a non-moving object), motion sickness is less likely to occur.

Recommendations:

  • When the weather is clear and you can see the ground, sea or horizon, you are less susceptible to motion sickness.
  • You can buy over the counter medications but we recommend that you consult your doctor about the appropriate medications.

Cosmic radiation

Cosmic radiation is the collective term for the radiation that comes from the sun and from the galaxies of the universe.

The earth's atmosphere substantially shields the earth from cosmic radiation. However the dose of cosmic radiation increases with:

  • increasing altitude
  • length of the flight
  • increasing latitude (getting closer to the north or south pole).

Like radiation from other sources, cosmic radiation is measured in sieverts (Sv). Annual doses are measured in millisieverts (mSv) which are thousandths of a sievert. Measurements on Qantas aircraft on individual sectors are measured in microsieverts (uSv) which are millionths of a sievert.

All humans are exposed to background radiation at sea-level. This comes from sources such as the local environment, food and drink, medical exposure and building materials. In high doses, radiation can be harmful. However, the doses received at flight altitudes are considered very low. The world average background radiation level is 2.4 mSv per year and the average Australian dose is approximately 2 mSv each year.

Recommended limits

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) recommends the following limits for flying:

  • For occupational exposure on commercial air flights (for example, pilots and flight attendands) is 20 mSv per year.
  • For the general public on commercial air flights is 1 mSv. This includes flying when pregnant.

Most public travellers in Australia would not be exposed to more than 1 mSv per year. A regular business traveller is likely to be exposed to more than 1 mSv per year, but assuming that they are undertaking the majority of their travel for business, they will come within the occupational exposure limits. Pregnant women should not be exposed to more than 1mSv per year.

Qantas pilots and flight attendants who operate international flights are exposed to approximately 3-4 mSv per year (that is 20% of the ARPANSA exposure limit). Qantas domestic pilots and flight attendants are exposed to approximately 2 mSv per year. This is low when compared to Computerised Tomography (CT) scans of the chest (8 mSv) or abdomen (5-30 mSv).

You can find out more about cosmic radiation at The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety AgencyOpens external site in a new window.