How to Stay Healthy While Flying

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How to stay healthy while flying
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We are privileged to live in a time when crossing the world is as easy as hopping on an airplane! What isn’t as easy is figuring out how to stay healthy while flying. With the tight quarters and recycled air, odds are high… you’ll be taking home a souvenir you could have done without.

One of our goals as a family is to travel as much as possible and I personally travel quite a bit more than I used to, so I have accumulated some ways to stay healthy during travel. With these adjustments I seem to have an easier time keeping sickness away even when in close quarters with a lot of people on an airplane.

How to Stay Healthy While Flying

There are some surprising ways our health is compromised while flying (it’s not just about avoiding germs!), but there are some simple solutions too.

Toxic Air

Flight attendants and passengers have been complaining about aerotoxic syndrome for years with little acknowledgment from airlines. Essentially, the theory is that the air from engines (contaminated with heated engine oil fumes) enters the cabin and makes some people very sick. There have been numerous accounts of flight attendants getting very ill (and showing improvement while away from the job).

Symptoms of aerotoxic syndrome include:

  • headaches
  • vision problems
  • breathing problems
  • muscle aches
  • increased tiredness
  • lack of concentration
  • inability to focus

While airlines have denied the reality of aerotoxic syndrome for years (though there have been numerous lawsuits), in 2017 British airline EasyJet announced the addition of specially designed filters to its aircrafts to stop toxic fumes from entering the passenger area. Some believe this is a clear admission that air quality on airplanes need to be better filtered.

Luckily there are some things you can do to lessen any aerotoxic exposure:

  • Load up on antioxidants (bee propolis is a great choice and you don’t need water to take it).
  • Drink green tea or other detox tea on the plane.
  • Consider a mask with carbon-activated filter. It may look silly but could be worthwhile if you are chemically sensitive.
  • Ingest activated charcoal or bentonite clay before the flight. They both bind to toxins and remove them from the body.
  • Take a detox bath when you reach your destination (or home).
  • Exercise or use a sauna upon arrival.

Tip: Get as much fresh air as possible after your flight. Instead of heading straight to the hotel, go for a walk outside.

Food Choices

While complimentary meals in the air are a thing of the past, many airlines still offer meals and snacks for a price. But the quality of food is notoriously bad. It’s heavy on additives and preservatives and light on taste. Luckily, airlines in the US (and many other places) allow you to take food on the plane, as long as you follow some rules. Here are some ideas:

  • Sandwiches, lettuce wraps, or salads
  • Dips, dressings, etc., only in containers 3.4 oz or smaller
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits (technically you can bring a butter knife, but I’d just cut them ahead of time)
  • A healthy meal replacement shake (I like these because you can get through security and then add water)
  • Granola bars or energy bites
  • Meat sticks and jerky (I like these)
  • Kale chips
  • Seaweed snacks
  • Dried fruit and nuts

Tip: You can also bring a bit of ginger in an empty Thermos (and fill with hot water at an airport vendor) for motion sickness.

Pathogens on Airplanes

It probably goes without saying that airplanes are full of pathogens. Flight crews only have a few minutes between flights and focus on picking up large trash and noticeable spills rather than doing a thorough cleaning. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t regulate or inspect cleaning either. Blankets and pillows are folded up and put away for the next passenger. Bathrooms aren’t fully cleaned between flights. Tray tables are thought to be the dirtiest place (many families use them for diaper changes!).

Also, when there’s a sick passenger onboard the people surrounding him are in danger of contracting germs. One study found that the window seat was the best place to sit because you have the least contact with other people.

If you can’t pick your seat or if you’re flying as a family and someone must be on the aisle, here are some things you can do to stay healthy:

  • Prep your (and your family’s) immune system beforehand by getting enough sleep, healthy food, exercise, vitamin D, and water.
  • Bring natural hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes to clean your area.
  • Use your Thermos and hot water from an airport vendor to make an immune-boosting hot tea like echinacea.
  • Bring your own neck pillow and a jacket to wear if you get cold.
  • Pack your favorite natural remedies to bring with you (here’s my packing list).
  • Wash your hands often.

Additionally, you may want to consider fasting on the trip. It’s thought that fasting (at least on shorter trips) may help avoid illness by not making the body focus on digestion (and may help with jet-lag too).

Avoid Water Onboard

I mentioned earlier that you should get water from an airport vendor before boarding the plane. The reason is that the water is not necessarily safe.

A random sampling of aircrafts in 2004 found E.coli in the water. Since then the EPA set the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule with more stringent disinfection and inspection regulations.

However, a sampling in 2013 showed water contamination was still a problem.

Bottom line: Stay away from tap water on a plane and drink bottled water or water you get from the airport instead.

Radiation

This one is controversial, but airport scanners use backscatter technology, which projects an X-ray beam onto your body. This ionizing radiation is a known cumulative health hazard that may cause cancer or other DNA damage. Many studies have found that X-rays and other ionizing radiation are one cause of human cancer.

Flying also brings us closer to the sun (one of the biggest sources of radiation) where the atmosphere is less protective, so it makes radiation levels on the body higher.

What to do:

  • Load up on antioxidants – Antioxidants can counteract the effects of radiation. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants. When you’re traveling though, propolis spray is a convenient way to get additional antioxidants.
  • Take a detox bath when you reach your destination – A sea salt and baking soda bath is thought to be helpful in reducing the effects of radiation on the body. I use this recipe.
  • Fly at night (or outside the 9-5 timeframe) – Since the sun is a major source of radiation, choosing flights when the sun is lower or away can help reduce the radiation exposure.
  • Skip the scanner – Request a pat-down instead (arrive at the airport early if choosing this option). (Flying with a baby also exempts you from passing through the scanner.)

Additionally, eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle will also help protect and heal the body.

The Bottom Line on Staying Healthy While Flying

The health issues associated with flying can seem all-encompassing, but there are some basic healthy living tactics that can help avoid most of them:

  • Use good hygiene (wash hands and anything around you!).
  • Eat a healthy diet (with lots of antioxidants) and lifestyle.
  • Detox after the flight,
  • Don’t drink the onboard water (but stay hydrated).
  • Bring healthy snacks on the airplane.
  • Get adequate sleep before the flight.

If you stick with these guidelines, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy the perks of travel in good health!

What do you do to stay healthy while flying?

Sources
  1. Aerotoxic Syndrome – The Poisoning of Airline Pilots, Cabin Crew and Passengers that is possible in any air flight. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Doucleff, M. (2018, March 19). Pathogens On A Plane: How To Stay Healthy In Flight. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/03/19/594916453/pathogens-on-a-plane-how-to-stay-healthy-in-flight
  3. Hendricks, S., Kirn, W., Graeber, D., Hurston, Z. N., Bacevich, A. J., Jayamaha, B., Hersh, S. M. (n.d.). Get access to 167 years ofHarper’s for only $45.99. Retrieved from https://harpers.org/2012/03/the-empty-stomach-fasting-to-beat-jet-lag/
  4. Wright, D. (2010, December 22). 6 places germs breed in a plane. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/12/22/bt.germs.breed.on.plane/index.html
  5. Friedman, S. (2013, October 29). EPA Tests Show Little Improvement in Airplane Water Quality. Retrieved from https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/epa-tests-show-high-percentage-of-airplanes-still-have-bacteria-in-water-served-on-board/1959074/
  6. Handschuh, H., Dwyer, J. O., & Adley, C. C. (2015, November). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4661625/
  7. Okunieff, P., Swarts, S., Keng, P., Sun, W., Wang, W., Kim, J., Zhang, L. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2800038/
  8. Clearing Radiation: A Detoxification Bath from Dr. Hazel Parcells. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thefinleycenter.com/uploads/3/7/7/4/37741423/detox_baths.pdf

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

24 responses to “How to Stay Healthy While Flying”

  1. Ali Avatar

    A little off-topic but still interesting… I sat next to an executive chef on a recent flight. He works for airlines designing their foods. He told me that the altitude affects our taste buds, so they have to add tons of extra salt to airline food for us to even taste anything. Other seasonings that work well on the ground are also useless at altitude. They know all that extra sodium isn’t good for us, but if they didn’t add it, we’d find airline food even more unpalatable than normal. And for some people, this triggers overeating while flying, because their brains are desperately seeking the flavor satiety that is normally there when not at altitude. Interesting stuff.

  2. AnnieA Avatar
    AnnieA

    Love these tips! And very much love that you have a pinnable image with the blog title on it!

  3. Rhiannon Avatar

    Even though I really DON”T like flying (it’s a stress-reaction thing; I’m working on it), the thought of being able to go to New Zealand (a place that I adore!) with my brain actually functioning on arrival is a good one — recommended supplements? I’m thinking of probiotics, zinc and magnesium, and probably melatonin. Recommended brands for a UK based person?

  4. Faith Avatar

    Hi all,
    Can someone please recommend some sort of supplement to prevent me and my children (ages 4 and 8) from constipation during travel? We flew abroad when my son was 2 years old and he became extremely constipated. He didn’t really want to eat much either so that didn’t help. I became constipated also. I’m not sure what to do because we can’t always control our food choices while flying abroad and staying in other people’s homes. Oh and we have had to avoid raw veggies (ex. salad) in certain countries to prevent food poisoning, which in-hand makes me really constipated. Not sure what to do…..If anyone can help that would be great!
    Thanks in advance!

      1. Faith Avatar

        Thanks for the quick response! Are there any in pill form that you recommend? Trying to reduce our liquids for flight. Do you think fiber pills will help at all?

        Thanks so much!

  5. daniel walker Avatar
    daniel walker

    Being fit and healthy while flying is important thanks for sharing the post.

  6. Helen Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama! I’m a big fan and can’t thank you enough for spreading valuable information (even if it’s controversial!) and thank you for including sources. I love reading your work! Thanks for all you do!

  7. Rhiannon Avatar
    Rhiannon

    I hate flying – the way that the entire dratted system is designed to make one frightened, the way that one loses that grounding connection, the lack of space, ach!

    I’ve simply decided to give up flying permanently – there’s always an alternative (especially in Europe), and I can genuinely claim (to friends and family) that flying makes me disorientated, confused, ill (in a sort of just feeling not-quite-right sort of way) and unable to function properly for some time afterwards. This doesn’t mean that, for example, I wouldn’t visit India or the USA, no, I’d find a boat or some other way to travel! The more eco-friendly the better!

  8. Theresa Avatar
    Theresa

    I fly ALOT. All this is great advice, especially disinfecting your area with wipes. Another tip- for long haul international flights, they usually offer 1 or two meals included in flight..always go online or call airline for special meal request. The quality is usually much better and even if you don’t eat the main, they often provide a salad with oil and vinegar and fruit instead of something processed and one flight I even got Mary’s crackers when others had peanuts! I always order gluten-free. However vegan and Kosher meals are usually good as well. I always try to bring my own food..but I also paid for this food so doesn’t hurt to order special meals and you might be surprised. Like yesterday was flying back from Bali and I got two hard boiled eggs and steamed veg for my GF breakfast (my husband had some scary eggs and sausage)..and my dinner was poached white fish and veg. Not too bad! 🙂

  9. Tierney Avatar
    Tierney

    Just wanted to add that instead of going through the scanner machines at security you can request to “opt out” for a pat down. I fly when I’m pregnant and I always avoid the machines! If you’re traveling with a baby security allows you to walk through the metal detector instead of the scanner. You can also bring your own containers of water and say it’s “for the baby” when you travel with an infant… even if it’s for you to drink. A security agent once told me that (off the record).

  10. Katherine Avatar
    Katherine

    The air in an airplane cabin is not necessarily recycled, depending on the individual plane you are on. In general, the passengers receive a constant stream of outside air at their seats. Of course, if your seatmate is coughing and blowing their nose, you could be breathing some of their airborne pathogens. To avoid this, put sesame oil or even neosporin in your nostrils. This will catch and trap a lot of what’s in the air. The neosporin would kill the microbes. After you land, do a good session of neti–rinsing out your nose with saline neti solution. Of course, you could wear one of those N95 duckbill masks as well. It would filter out some of the airborne stuff and keep your nose from drying out as well. Some years ago, this would have been the dorkiest thing ever, but since this last flu season, I see people nonchalantly wearing them in the grocery store.

    The main pathway of infection on an airplane is the surfaces. Be vigilant in what you touch. Carry your hand sani with you. Don’t touch your face. Parents with small children might want to carry sanitizing wipes and give the seat, tray table, armrest, and entertainment unit a good wipedown. This goes for the tiny restroom as well. Heck, even if you don’t have kids, you might want to do this.

  11. Diane Avatar

    Radiation in airplanes?

    You neglected to mention the wireless radiation in planes, now unavoidable. Most do not understand the biohazards from exposure to the Wi-Fi and it is significant in airplanes. Many of my friends who suffer from microwave sickness can no longer fly. This segment of the population is growing as is the wireless radiation in planes.

  12. Choo Avatar

    Best thing you can do is Dry Fast while flying. Don’t drink or eat anything. This protects you from radiation, alkalizes and hydrates your body interstitially. Refuse the radiation machines and let the perverts pat you down. I can see loading up vitamin on D prior, choosing the best airlines and plane to avoid their so called aerotoxic syndrome. This, in my opinion, is due to Chemtrailing or so-called, cough, cough Geoengineering. I would also avoid flight patterns over Fukushima if you want to avoid radiation.

  13. Amy Avatar

    Wow thank you!! I fly a lot with my career and thought I knew all the tricks. These are GREAT!! Definitely will be adding them to my flying rituals! Thank you again!!

  14. Laura E Wasserman Avatar
    Laura E Wasserman

    The symptoms of the aerotoxic syndrome you discuss sound exactly like altitude sickness. Planes are pressurized to 8,000 feet, but idd bet some people suffer even at this. I experienced true altitude sickness at 16,000 feet and it sounds like this. Hydration is the best way to avoid mild cases of it

  15. Chris Kramer Avatar
    Chris Kramer

    Very interesting article! I fly a lot and I have noticed some of these effects, most notably breathing issues and lack of focus. It sucks that the airlines haven’t really paid enough attention to this, but then again, as with any for-profit business with high costs, quality and health are usually the first to be sacrificed. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  16. Alicia Avatar
    Alicia

    I have been using charcoal for years for detoxifying especially for traveling. A few weeks ago I went to a lecture with my local health-food store. They had a doctor from the Mayo Clinic that created a natural product called hybrid cr to boost the immune system. He said for travel this is a must have. My family recently went on a Cruise so I gave it to my entire family before jumping on the plane. I was surprised as I had a cold before leaving and it even knocked out my cold in one day.

  17. Leigh Avatar

    Very disappointed. I’ve reached out to you 3X’s and I have yet to hear a response. I would appreciate if you’d address my questions.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hey Leigh! Happy to help. Sometimes comments have already been addressed in the comment thread on a specific post. But always feel free to email support @ wellnessmama .com with any questions 🙂

    2. Alette Avatar
      Alette

      Leigh, she’s running a blog and she has kids. There are no blogs when they’re as popular as this one where the writer can possibly answer every single question in the comments section, and still have a life.

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