Airline Air – five tips for breathing easier2 min read
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted about cabin fume events – how problems during a flight can cause real air quality issues for the crew and passengers. Hopefully, these events are rare and that raising the red flag in the press will help the airlines improve things so that they become rarer still.
However, even on flights without specific problems, there are air quality issues and steps one can take to minimize the effects of these.
Why is the air so bad?
- Airline cabin air is recycled. Older aircraft tend to filter air and mix in part fresh air before recirculating it in the cabin. Newer aircraft tend to use almost all recirculated air. Often when the plane is on the ground the recirculation and filtering systems aren’t completely functional so the air may be of even worse quality than when you’re in flight.
- Airline cabin air is extremely low in humidity. Such air can dry the mucous membranes of your nose, mouth, throat and bronchial tree (or breathing tubes), which are then less able to keep out viruses and bacteria. Your eyes may become dry and uncomfortable as well.
- Airline cabin air is low in oxygen relative to fresh air on the ground. Healthy individuals shouldn’t notice any difference but those with chronic lung conditions might.
- High altitude flights draw in air that contains high levels of ozone. Most big airliners that fly longer routes are equipped with ozone converters that decompose this air, but this may not be the case with planes designed for shorter flights.
- While airplane filtration systems are pretty good at eliminating more serious pathogens like Tuberculosis (TB) from cabin air, the proximity of your fellow passengers can increase your risk of getting a respiratory infection–a miserable, business trip-spoiling cold.
What can I do?
- Choose a seat in the middle of the plane. As the air circulates across the rows and not up and down the plane, some experts believe the worst air is in the front or the back of the plane.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of fluids (water or fruit juice) and avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which will dehydrate you. In my experience most flight attendants will gladly provide you a bottle of water even during the boarding process.
- If you wear contact lenses, take them out before you fly–or have your lens case handy in case you need to take them out in-flight.
- If your row-mate has chosen to fly with a raging cold and is sneezing and coughing near you, ask to be reseated. Cover your nose and mouth when he or she sneezes.
- Wash your hands. Many respiratory viruses are transmitted through hand to face contact. In addition to keeping your hands clean, don’t touch your mouth, nose or eyes with dirty fingers.