Staying healthy and safe on your flight

There was once a time when flying was cool. You wanted to be a jetsetter. Today? Not so much. Either we’re getting bigger, or the seats are getting smaller (and our money is on the seats).

More than ever, you must be prepared, especially for lengthy transcontinental or international flights. By eating right, keeping hydrated, staying limber, and getting rest, you can make your flight a lot healthier and arrive ready to hit the ground in better shape.

Below are 10 ideas from my new book, 300 Healthy Travel Tips. I hope these will help make your next flight a healthy one.

1.    Water is your friend. Staying hydrated is imperative in the skies. And for that, nothing beats our good friend, dihydrogen oxide, more commonly known as water. The humidity inside your jet is like the Sahara Desert, and a typical plane is pressurized to at least 8,000 feet. If you want to feel energized in the days following your flight, staying hydrated on the plane is essential. Drink before you’re thirsty. Aim for drinking a cup of water per every hour you’re in the air.

If you’re drinking water on the plane, do everything you can to make sure it’s bottled water. Studies have found an astonishing level of contamination in most drinking water served on many planes. So be sure to bring a large bottle with you on board. I also recommend minimizing booze or coffee, both of which can dehydrate you. And carbonated beverages can leave you feeling bloated in your plane’s high altitude, pressurized environment. For me, nothing beats water. You’ll feel better and minimize the impact of jet lag.

2.    Disinfect. Your seat can be a germ magnet, and an easy way to catch a cold. Tests have shown alarmingly high levels of pathogens in common places on the plane: Your seat armrests. Seat belt buckles. Ventilation nozzles. Seat back pockets and tray tables. Bathroom door handles and surfaces. Bathroom faucets and door locks. And of course, toilet seat covers. If you must touch it, assume that the surface is swimming in germs. More than the recirculated air on a plane, the surfaces you touch are the biggest threat to catching a cold or worse.

Protect yourself by wiping down any surface you may need to touch with a disinfecting towelette. Before you settle into your seat, wipe down everything around you and anything you might touch. Clorox, Lysol, Purell and other companies offer travel packs of disinfecting wipes that I highly recommend. You can purchase these online or at your local pharmacy, big box store, or online. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket and use it as you go.

Pro Tip: Avoid wiping down the passenger next to you. Trust me: It won’t end well.

When using the plane’s bathroom, assume that every surface you touch is a gateway for E. coli and other germs. Be sure to wash and sanitize your hands thoroughly. Use a tissue or a silicone surgical gloves (I always bring some) to protect your hands from directly touching the bathroom’s toilet seat, toilet flush handle, faucet, door lock, and doorknob as you leave. If you’re traveling with children, make sure they do this too.

I must sound like a germaphobe. But given how many colds I have caught while flying, that’s reason enough. Play it safe.

3.    Don’t touch. Be mindful and avoid touching your nose and eyes while traveling. These are often entry points for germs. I recommend carrying a small tube of petroleum jelly or a 3-oz. spray bottle of saline solution to keep your nostrils moist and to prevent nose bleeds in the plane cabin’s super dry environment.

4.    Protect your skin by applying moisturizer to combat the plane’s dry air. Pro Tip: You will win points with your fellow passengers by using unscented moisturizer.

5.    Reduce the impact of jet lag. Life in your destination’s time zone begins the second you board the plane. Adjust your watch to your destination’s location immediately and regulate your habits to match that time zone. As soon as you settle into your seat, change the time on your watch and shift everything you do to match the time of your destination.

A few days before your flight, get a head start and shift your sleep schedule to match that of your destination. Do the same with your eating schedule, especially on your flight. That might mean not eating during regular meal service; just speak with your flight attendant to request a different meal time. Or, if you are bringing food (something I prefer to do instead), plan your meals to match when you would eat them in your destination time zone. Doing these things can help you shake off the inevitable ravages of jet lag more easily.

British Airways’ jet lag advisor website can help you plan your sleep/wake cycle to minimize jet lag. I highly recommend visiting it.

If you can handle it, fasting is another way to fight off jet lag. U.S. government studies discovered that not eating before and during a flight can reduce the impact of jet lag. Once you arrive, time your first meal and your sleep cycle to coincide with the local time zone, and you can more quickly recover from a long flight.

As an alternative, if you’re flying across the ocean, and your flight is scheduled to arrive in the morning, have breakfast on the plane before you land at your destination. Combining this with fasting can potentially energize and help you adjust to the new time zone more quickly. Whichever solution you try, make sure to do your homework and test it in advance of your trip.

6.    BYOF (Bring your own food). Airport food is often expensive, not particularly good nor nutritious. I like to arrive at the airport having already eaten to avoid the temptations of mindless junk or fast food. By making a meal at home prior to my flight, I can eat a more nutritious meal. In the air, the food offered or sold by the airline is often stale and/or just plain lousy. Snack boxes are filled with empty calories. With a little preparation, you can do better.

I pack protein bars. But be careful — many brands of protein or especially energy bars are often high-calorie candy bars and little more. Carefully look at the ingredients and nutritional analysis on the back of the wrapper. I also bring raw, unsalted nuts or trail mix, along with sliced fresh vegetables and fruit. I even pack a travel shaker with protein or vegetarian meal replacement powder, chia seeds, cinnamon, and other nutritional additives. With cold bottled water or ice water, I can have a filling, low-calorie meal that can keep me full throughout my flight, and can help me when I’m on the go at my destination.

7.    Keep moving. Long flight? Stand up when you can to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Walk the aisle of the plane once an hour. Be nice to your flight attendants, and they might let you use space near the galley area or the plane’s doors to do stretches, toe touches, knee bends, leg lifts, squats, lunges, and yoga poses to keep your body limber and your blood circulating.

Being stuck in your seat doesn’t mean you can’t stretch. Many airlines post in-seat stretching routines to help you stay limber and keep your blood circulating. “Stretch and twist your shoulders, arms, neck, back, legs, knees, and ankles hourly. Before your flight, Google “in-flight exercises” to find diagrams of what you can do to stay limber on the plane. Qantas Airlines has a spiffy web page demonstrating some in-flight exercises you can do in your seat.

Some in-flight exercises you can do while sitting include:

  • Ankle rotations: Lift your feet off the floor and draw a circle with your toes, trying to get a full range of motion through your ankle. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Foot lifts: Alternate keeping your toes on the floor and lifting your heels with keeping your heels on the floor and lifting your toes.
  • Knee lifts: Sitting straight up, keep your knee bent and lift your thigh so that you’re flexing at the hip. Alternate legs.
  • Toe curls: Curl your toes and release. Try pressing your toes down against the floor or just wiggling them inside your shoes.

8.    Don’t wear contact lenses. Because the environment of a plane’s cabin is so dry, never wear contacts for the duration of a long-haul flight. (Ophthalmologists will tell you: It’s not safe for long flights.) Wear glasses instead.

9.    A travel blanket or layered clothing to help you sleep. I no longer use the blankets handed out by flight crews. The reason: Typically, airlines don’t wash the blankets after they are used, but merely repackage them into plastic bags for the next passenger. I have received the gift of fleas and bedbugs from airline blankets, even when flying first class. Keep that in mind. Instead, I opt to bring my own blanket or fly with layers of clothing to keep me warm on colder flights. Combine this with silicone earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, a travel pillow, and an eye mask, and you can get some well-deserved rest above the clouds.

10. Never assume that your possessions are completely safe on a plane. Protect them. When you travel, you are carrying many prized possessions, including your phone/tablet/computer and all the data stored on them. Your wallet, passport, and ID. A watch and jewelry. Camera equipment. And more. If you fall asleep or leave your seat, have you protected the valuable possessions you brought with you?

Increasingly, theft aboard flights is becoming a common but unspoken problem. Other passengers, even flight crew members, have been caught rifling through carry-on luggage, coats, bags stored beneath seats, and items lying on an empty seat.

Don’t make yourself a victim. Keep your most important possessions on you always. If you plan to leave your seat, make sure items such as camera gear are in inaccessible locations in your bags. Point the zipper access to your bags away from easy reach. Planning on sleeping? Make sure your feet block a carry-on tucked under the seat in front of you. Or wear a jacket, using the inner pockets if they are available.

Be friendly. But keep your guard up. People are not always what they seem.

Stay healthy, my friends!

This article is a book excerpt from 300 Healthy Travel Tips available on Apple iBooks and coming soon to the Amazon Kindle and other ebook stores. Learn more at