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Air Travel Tips

Space Limitations

One obvious problem is lack of space. This does vary considerably from airline to airline, and from airplane model to airplane model. If you travel a lot, you might want to sample different airlines and airplanes to determine your preferences. If you are very tall, you may prefer an aisle seat. This will hopefully give you a chance to stretch your legs into the aisle from time to time. Even better is to get a "bulkhead seat": there is usually more legroom in those positions. Be advised, however, that those seats go quickly; it pays to book ahead!

Oddly, something that helps you feel less cramped is to travel with a friend instead of alone. The better you are acquainted with someone, the harder it is to have your "personal space" violated.

Air Sickness
If you get motion sick easily, you may be more comfortable if you take some sort of motion sickness drug before you fly. Note that you must take the drugs before you get sick; there is unfortunately nothing that I know of that will relieve motion sickness once it has started.

My personal drug of choice is Drammamine? (TM), a readily-obtained over-the-counter medication. Unlike Bonine? (TM), another over-the-counter drug, it tends to make one drowsy. I feel that this is a benefit on a long plane ride! Another motion sickness treatment (usually used for boating) is scopalamine patches. These patches go behind the ear, and usually have no noticeable side effects. I believe that in the USA, a prescription is required. Furthermore, there can be unpleasant side effects, such as dry mouth, blurry vision, and one other one that I forget. (Oh yeah - loss of memory.)

Motion sickness is caused in part by a discrepancy between what the eye sees and what the inner ear feels. (This is why the driver of a car gets sick much less frequently than a passenger: the driver is continuously watching the road, getting a good idea of what is coming next.) It may help to close your eyes the moment you start to consider thinking about getting airsick.

If you do come down with discomfort, one relatively easy but embarrassing way to feel better is to empty your stomach. "Barf bags" are usually located in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of you. Frequently, using them reduces and/or eliminates the discomfort.

Air Quality

The air that you breathe inside an airline cabin isn't nearly as good as what you will find most other places. The cabin is pressurized, since the air is so thin at altitude. However, they don't pressurize it to sea level; it is substantially weaker. (This is part of why air travel can be so draining; you can end up with mild altitude sickness!)

Furthermore, the air is very very dry. This can lead to dehydration, which can also make you feel lousy. I strongly advise bringing a litre or two of water with you, and guzzling that non-stop throughout the trip.

Finally, the air is filled with the exhaust products of your fellow travelers. One of these can be cigarette smoke; while smoking has been banned on domestic US flights, such rules are not followed around the globe. Although it might horrify some Americans, not all countries even mandate separate smoking sections!

Another exhaust product is germs. Because airplane tickets are so expensive, and because such effort is involved in making such a trip, people will fly sick. If your immune system is compromised in any way (HIV, chemotherapy, immunoglobulin deficiency), you may well want to wrap your face in a scarf or wear a surgical mask.


Because of the altitude, airplanes can also be quite cold (especially the floor). I always take a jacket with me on the plane and take one of the blankets that the airline provides. Wool socks are not a bad idea either. On the larger planes, there is usually a little fan that blows on you. The airflow can be adjusted by twisting the unit.


Planes are also very noisy. You might not think this is a big deal, but it wears away at you. Consider bringing some earplugs with you. Most of the large jets have sound systems built-in. Many of the newer planes also have built-in TV systems for movies and infomercials. Usually, you have to pay a small fee (generally around five US dollars) to rent headphones if you want sound. Be advised that the sound quality will NOT rival that of a compact disk player: the tapes get played over and over again, and the lack of fidelity can pain a purist. You can bring portable tape and/or compact disk players aboard with you, but airlines may restrict their use (especially on takeoff and landing). There is some concern that the electromagnetic fields generated by consumer electronics can interfere with the airplane's navigational signals. I don't know if these concerns have been empirically substantiated, but I don't care. I'd rather be bored than in a plane crash.


Food on airlines is about what you would expect, considering that all the food must be prepared ahead of time and served to a large number of people with very different taste preferences. It is amazing that the food is as good as it is, but still, it frequently will not please you. U.S. carriers are pretty good about accommodating standard dietary preferences, but you have to help them out. If you are vegetarian or keep kosher, tell your travel agent when you purchase the ticket, and the airlines will usually accommodate you.

If you have food allergies, you are probably safest bringing your own food with you. (In fact, even if you eat anything, you are probably better off bringing your own food with you!) Be advised that many countries have import restrictions on foods; If you bring food, be sure that you either finish it all on the plane or make sure that it will clear customs.

Morley Selver suggests never getting on an airplane hungry. You might think you will get a meal shortly, but the following could happen: 1) Everyone boards the aircraft, then they decide they have to fix something. They are not sure how long it will take, therefore nobody is allowed off. 2) You take off on a 3 hour flight that has 2-1/2 hrs of turbulence where the flight crew is not allowed to serve meals. 3) You do not like the food. 4) There is an electrical problem with the galley and your half of the plane does not get a meal.

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