What Happens To Your Body On A Plane?

Side effects of plane travel for business travelersNot surprisingly, flying through the air at 600 miles per hour has some interesting effects on the body. Though flying at around 35,000 feet, the cabin is pressurized to mimic the altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet. That’s comparable to sitting on top of mountain. Count in hours of inactivity, exposure to germs, and recirculated air, it’s no wonder we feel a bit sluggish after a long plane trip. For frequent business travelers, it can be easy to forget what our bodies goes through every time we board a plane. Below are some of the typical side effects of plane travel and the science behind it.

Taste

Airplane food has always had the reputation of being bland and unappetizing. Turns out there is a scientific reason behind the judgement. It’s not always the food that is the problem, but our surroundings. Pressurized cabin, high altitude and circulated cool dry air “makes your taste buds go numb, almost as if you have cold”, says Grant Meckels, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs.  Our ability to perceive sweetness and saltiness can dip up to 30% while flying, changing the way food tastes.

Solutions? Don’t waste calories on a plane. Take small snacks with you to keep your energy levels up, but don’t go overboard. Is it worth it if you can’t even taste it?

Drowsiness

We’ve all been there. You open up your laptop after take-off, create an attack plan for your to-do list, when suddenly it hits you– you can’t keep your eyes open. No, you’re not subconsciously avoiding work. Your body is feeling the difference of air pressure while flying.  At high elevations, the air pressure is much lower than at ground level. This decrease in air pressure causes your blood oxygen levels to also drop, making you feel tired and fatigued.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to avoid this sensation. Some airplanes are pressurized to resemble lower altitudes, like the Boeing 787.   They also hold more oxygen, so overall you should feel better during and after travel.

Dehydration

Dehydration has many symptoms like lightheadedness, dry mouth, and headaches. We all know to drink water, but it can be easily forgotten while scrambling through the airport. But did you know dehydration comes from other sources?  Cabin pressurization, the culprit again, creates a very dry environment with very little moisture in the air. The humidity level on a plane is on average 10 to 20 percent. This is much lower compared to a comfortable indoor temperature of 30 to 65 percent. This sudden change in moisture takes a toll on our body through dry skin, scratchy eyes, and headaches. Additionally, this arid climate can dry up the mucus in the nose and mouth, leaving us more susceptible to germs and bacteria.

Though not avoidable, there are a few tricks to keep you comfortable. Avoid alcohol while flying and drink plenty of water. Also, pack eye drops, nasal spray and lotion with you.

Swelling Ankles

Sitting for prolonged amount of time can wreck havoc on your circulation system. Add in the decrease in oxygen levels and no wonder ankles swell. If you are prone to this symptom, make sure you stand up and move around the cabin about once an hour. You can also try a few exercises that engage your leg muscles while sitting, like ankle rolls or knee lifts.  Pumping your calves usually helps too. Though in some cases, prolonged sitting can cause blood clots called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

Air travel is a marvel, but it comes with some negative repercussions to our bodies. Mainly cabin pressurization creates a cold and arid environment with less oxygen, leaving us dried out and sleepy. Next time you travel, try to come hydrated and prepared for your adventure at 35,000 feet.

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