Healthier Air Travel, Naturally by Renée Leonard-Stainton


On flights, unfortunately, it’s not just passengers that board the plane. Bacteria and viruses hitch along with their host for a free ride, making planes a hotbed for illness. Combined with cramped conditions, lack of sleep, radiation, boredom and mediocre food, plane travel is known to ‘throw the body around’ a bit, but luckily there are options for making it a smoother ride. Prior to takeoff, you may want to take on board some of these tips for a more comfortable and healthier flight.

Choose a healthier meal: Airline food has come a long way from just your standard “beef” or “chicken” options. Airlines now offer meals that are suitable for a wide variety of diets, from vegetarian to medical to religious. During the booking process, you have the option of purchasing a special meal. Low sodium can be a good option as it helps prevents fluid retention and is less likely to have MSG (which, unfortunately, many meals have to enhance flavor). If you’re super organised, packing your own meals is the healthiest (and tastiest!) option. For shorter flights, eating prior to boarding or bringing your own healthy snacks is your best bet, but on long-haul, you’ve often just got to do the best that you can.

Limit carry-on luggage:
Checked baggage fees are encouraging travelers to carry on more and more stuff, but on a long-haul flight this could burn you; anything that is under the seat in front of you just means less legroom and a more cramped living space for hours…and hours…and hours. Don’t bring so much on that you compete for your own sleeping space!

Board relatively rested:
Avoid banking on the idea of a long-haul flight being a good place to catch up on sleep. As attractive as it seems to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the trip away, it doesn’t always go according to plan (little ones crying, turbulence, Mr Chatty next to you…) Even if you are well rested, if its long-haul, you’ll be on the plane long enough to catch a few winks. Just listen to your body. If your eyes start to droop, get out the eye covers and earplugs, and go with it.

Avoid additional radiation: Flying already exposes us to huge amounts of radiation. Full-body ‘backscatter’ X-ray scanners have recently been introduced at many airports and are generating controversy because of the radiation that they emit. Authorities maintain that these scanners emit safe levels of radiation, but most people agree that we should avoid being exposed to additional radiation whenever possible. You may not want to go through them and, thankfully, authorities understand. The alternative to these so-called ‘strip-search’ screenings is known as an ‘enhanced’ pat-down (you just say that you want to ‘opt out’ of the scan and then someone of the same sex gives you a physical pat down to ensure you aren’t carrying any weapons etc.)

Boost your immunity: Get your immune system pumping before you go. Some supplements to consider are Echinacea, Kyolic garlic, Spirulina, Zinc and vitamin C. I also carry vitamin C powder on the plane with me and take it a few times during the flight (powder is absorbed faster than pill form). Keep that immune army fighting full flight!

Bring healthy snacks: Carry nuts and seeds, dried fruits, fresh fruit (just remember to leave anything uneaten on the plane so you don’t get stung by customs!)

Avoid pharmaceutical sleeping tablets. These can leave you feeling groggy, and if you are inclined to have a tipple on flight…alcohol and sleeping tablets are not a wise mix. Jet lag, hangover, and sleeping tablet haze – not the best way to start navigating a new city! Valerian is a herb used as a natural sleep aid. It can be taken (following directions) en-route, and is also used to help adjust to new time zones by helping people fall asleep at their desired time. Unlike other sleep aids, valerian is not believed to be addictive or cause grogginess the next morning.

Get moving: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of blood clots in deep veins, and is a known risk of longer flights (the risk of developing DVT on flights up to four hours is small, but increases as travel time increases). The combination of being immobile along with the effects of dehydration increases the risk of DVT on long flights. To help prevent it, the following is beneficial; walking up and down the aisles of the plane; flexing and stretching your legs to encourage blood flow; wearing loose clothing; drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding alcohol.

Avoid sugar: Pass on the sugary foods or beverages. Too much sugar has a negative impact on the immune system and the body’s ability to fight infection. It’s wise to minimize sugar consumption prior to the flight also.

Stay hydrated: Cabin air systems control pressure, airflow, air filtration, and temperature. The continued recycling of cabin air, together with the low air pressure, decreases cabin humidity. As a result, your body loses water more rapidly causing dehydration, often without you even noticing Dehydration can contribute to jet lag, headaches, dry skin and nasal irritation. Avoid diuretics such as coffee and caffeinated soft drinks.

Prevent dryness of your skin, eyes, and airways: Plane air dries out your mucous membranes, which reduces your resistance to infection. Keeping these membranes moist with saline spray may help. Use moisturizer or spritzs for your skin and saline eye drops.

Practice good hand hygiene: Wash your hands before you eat. Don’t put your unwashed hands in your mouth or rub your eyes. Natural hand sanitizer gels are now available from some organic brands – yes!

Prevent motion sickness: Ginger supplements may help prevent nausea. Take these before you start feeling sick if you know that you are prone to being nauseous.

Natural relief for travel anxiety: Travelling can cause major and debilitating anxiety for some people. The Bach flower remedy ‘Rescue Remedy’ can help alleviate flight nerves. The homeopathic remedies ‘Aconite’ and ‘Argentum’ can be useful for calming the nerves and reducing agitation.

If you are lucky enough to have a journey planned in the near future, safe travels!


Renée Leonard-Stainton is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, and Mama to two healthy young boys. With extensive experience in both the health and media industries, Renée contributes to a variety of magazines and celebrity websites. She’s a regular on New-Zealand radio + TV, endorsing wellbeing products and featuring as a natural health expert.

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