Your health inflight

Your comfort, health and wellbeing are important to us when flying. In partnership with The University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, we’ve put together information to consider.

Things to know

We know you love to travel, and we do too. And while there’s plenty to enjoy onboard with our spacious seats, fresh inflight dining and entertainment, you’re also sitting down for what can be an unnatural amount of time.

Combined with the cabin pressure, that’s low in humidity, travelling at high speeds across times zones (depending on your destination), you can sometimes arrive feeling a little sluggish.

Whether you’re on a short or long haul flight, one of our B787-9 Dreamliner’s or an A380 – it’s worth considering our health and wellbeing advice to help minimise the effects of flying on your body.

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, and can cause drying of the nose, throat and eyes.

We recommend you:

  • Keep well hydrated by drinking enough water.
  • Limit carbonated drinks, coffee and alcoholic beverages as they can dehydrate the body.
  • Remove contact lenses and wear glasses if your eyes are irritated.
  • Use a skin moisturiser to refresh the skin.

Eating and drinking

Good nutrition will enhance your comfort before, during and after your flight.

Tips to consider:

  • Eat well-balanced, light and nutritious meals.
  • Avoid over eating, it’s difficult to digest too much food when the body is inactive.
  • Avoid very spicy foods (e.g. chilli, English mustard) directly before the sleep period as they may stimulate metabolism and inhibit sleep.
  • Hydrate with water and herbal teas and limit fluids that can dehydrate the body like carbonated drinks, coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages.

Blood circulation and muscle relaxation

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

  • The central blood vessels in your legs can be compressed, making it harder for 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 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, or 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 other 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 one or more days
  • age 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.
  • Follow our inlight exercises recommended and move about the cabin occassionally.

Inflight workout

These exercises are designed to provide a safe way to stretch and move certain muscle groups that can become stiff during long periods of sitting. They may be effective at increasing blood circulation and massaging the muscles.

We recommend you do the exercises for around three or four minutes every hour and occasionally get out of your seat and walk down the aisles when the seatbelt sign is off and it's safe to do so.

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

Further information can be found in the Qantas Magazine.

Exercises

1. Ankle circles

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

2. Foot pumps

Foot motion is in three stages. Start with both heels on the floor and point feet upward as high as you can. Put both feet flat on the floor. 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 pressure

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 shouldn't 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’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 pre-existing medical condition that warrants supplemental oxygen, you can order it from us. Please give at least five days' notice before travelling.
  • Try to 'clear' your ears by swallowing or yawning. 
  • When flying with an infant, feed or give your baby a dummy during descent. The sucking and swallowing actions help equalise ear pressure.

 

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. It generally takes the body's biological clock approximately one day to adjust per time zone crossed. Common symptoms are sleeplessness at night, tiredness during the day, loss of appetite or increased appetite at odd hours.

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

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep before you fly.
  • If possible, give yourself a day or two to adjust to the new time zone at your destination.
  • Where possible in the 2-3 days before your flight, go to bed half an hour earlier or later to be closer to bedtime at your destination.
  • Seek and avoid light at the right times at your destination. Expose yourself to bright and continuous light by spending time outdoors during daylight hours and avoiding artificial lighting in the lead up to sleep.
  • Avoid using screen-based devices such as laptops and smartphones in the 2 hours before bed.
  • Get plenty of sleep when the cabin lights are dimmed.
  • Eat well balanced meals and keep hydrated.
  • Fly direct to minimise flight time if you can.
  • Try some light exercise- move, flex, stretch walk, run or do whatever your choice of daily activity is.

Motion sickness

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 inner ear. Dizziness, fatigue and nausea are the most common symptoms. If you have good visual cues (keeping your eyes fixed on a non-moving object), motion sickness is less likely to occur.

Recommendations:

  • look out the window - it helps to re-orient the inner sense of balance
  • take a nap or close your eyes
  • consult your doctor about medication that may alleviate the symptoms.

Note: This advice is general for customers in good health. If you have a special medical condition or are on any medications seek the advice of your doctor before travelling.