How To Make Air Travel Less Painful

July 14, 2016

You can’t sleep. Your joints hurt. The food is awful. The air is stinky. It’s too hot. Now it’s too cold. There’s no space for your knees. And then a baby starts crying…

Sounds familiar? Most of us have experienced some level of discomfort on an aircraft, and if you’re stuck in economy for a transatlantic flight from Europe to New York or beyond, the journey is rarely pleasant.

There are reasons for that, of course. Modern aircraft, contrary to popular belief, don’t offer the kind of air pressure that we would experience at sea level – instead, “cabin altitude” is usually between 1,828 metres and 2,438 metres, the height of a small mountain. This means less oxygen and expansion of gases in our body cavities. There are other stresses too: flight delays, going through airport security, noise and vibration on board, tasteless food, sharp ups and downs in temperature, low humidity, cramped seating and jet lag – to name but a few.

But there are ways to make your journey just that much more bearable.

Manage pre-flight stress

One thing, says Rob Bor, a clinical psychologist at Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, is to get ready for travel in advance, to keep stress levels down. “A surprising number of people don’t prepare themselves by checking their documentation beforehand, making sure their passport is in place and knowing their travel times and which airport they are going to,” says Bor.

They check it the same day, and that is not good enough, he says. “Scan your passport and keep it in your email system in case something happens,” advises Bor. For your trip to the airport, factor in potential delays such as transport strikes, traffic jams, and weather conditions.

Choose your seat

Choose your seat wisely using websites such as SeatGuru, owned by TripAdvisor. It uses colour-coded seating charts tailored for each aircraft and airline, advising passengers which seats to dodge because they are next to the toilets, ultra-narrow or don’t recline, and so on.

Experts say that sitting near the plane’s wing means less turbulence, as wings are located close to the plane’s centre of gravity. And if you forget to choose your seat, ask at the gate – chances are that you might snag an empty row, provided the flight is not full.

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