Flying high when travelling for work

September 1st, 2011

Companies are continually expanding across regions, interstate and overseas, so it’s no wonder more people are flying for work. However, there are a few, less understood health risks associated with plane travel. Educating employees about these risks is essential to ensure a healthy staff member arrives at the destination, ready to do their job with as much vigour as if they were in their usual office.

Cabin humidity and dehydration
Inside the airplane cabin, humidity levels can drop below 25%, which can cause dry nose, throat and eyes. If you normally wear contacts, use glasses just for the plane trip or have them handy in case. Drink water and juice frequently, but avoid too much tea, coffee or alcohol as these are diuretics and can cause dehydration. A skin moisturiser can prevent irritation caused by dry skin.

Blood circulation and muscle relaxation
Sitting upright and still for long periods of time is not natural for the human body and can cause central blood vessels in the legs to become compressed. This in turn makes it harder for blood to flow back to the heart and can cause swelling of the legs and ankles. Compression stockings and the in-flight workout below can reduce risk of cardiac problems or general discomfort. Be aware that muscles may tense for no reason during the flight, so try to relax them as much as possible.

Some people have a higher risk of forming blood clots or developing deep vein thrombosis in flight, including those who have medical conditions or take medication that encourage the formation of blood clots.

In-flight workout
The following exercises are a safe way to move and stretch in the restricted environment of a seat on board an airplane. Do the following exercises every 3-4 hours.

  1. Ankle circles: Draw a circle with your toes for 15 seconds each way.
  2. Foot pumps: Lift up toes leaving heels on the floor, and then lift heels without letting the balls of your feet leave the floor. Repeat motion for 30 seconds.
  3. Knee Lifts: Lift leg towards your chest with knee bent, alternating legs 30 times.
  4. Neck roll: Drop shoulders and gently roll head forward, back and side-to-side. Repeat five times.
  5. Knee to chest: Bend forward to hug alternate knees for 15 seconds each, repeat 10 times.
  6. Forward flex: Bend forward and walk your hands down your legs, hold for 15 seconds, and then up again.
  7. Shoulder roll: Roll shoulders clockwise then anti-clockwise in a gentle circular motion

Jet lag
Travelling to a different time zone without giving the body time to adjust may disturb your biological clock, causing feelings of tiredness and fatigue during work hours. To minimise jet lag, get a good night’s sleep prior to your flight, and allow for a small adjustment period on arrival if possible. Fly direct, and exercise your body or mind if you can’t sleep on arrival, as having a long, restless sleep is less effective than a short deep sleep.

Motion sickness
Feeling sick during a flight is triggered by a conflict between what you are seeing and your sense of equilibrium. Motion sickness is aggravated by turbulence, so if you experience turbulence, try to focus on a non-moving object, like the horizon. Over-the-counter motion sickness medication will cause drowsiness, and they recommend not being within 6 hours of your destination. It’s best to consult your doctor about motion sickness medications before travel.

Flying can lead to great work opportunities, so don’t let the in-flight environment reduce your employee’s, or your own, ability to perform after air travel. Adequate preparation and support will ensure a healthy, jet set team of staff.