How to stay healthy while travelling + the one time I got sick with the flu on a plane

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Having been a flight attendant for more than half a decade, I am quite an expert at travelling on planes. I’ve seen my fair share of people getting sick while travelling, and it’s never a great experience. So in this post, I will be sharing some tips on how to stay healthy while travelling on long-haul flights. Plus, some interesting encounters that I’ve had dealing with these situations on board a plane.

Believe me, there’s nothing fun about falling sick while on a trip, or even worse, right before your holidays. You’ve been saving and looking forward to that long-awaited, well-deserved trip when suddenly your body decides to betray you. So what do you do? Do you cancel, or do you power through it?

Well, now we’re living in a pandemic world where there are stricter rules and regulations with regards to travelling and entering a country. There may be a chance that your airline might not let you get on that plane if you’re feeling ill. So how to stay healthy while travelling?

Be well rested before your trip

Adults and children alike are always excited before a trip. While a child excites about the things they will get to do and see, an adult might have a mountain of things to do in preparation for the trip. Be it last-minute packing, trying to wrap up as much as you can before you switch off your computers, the experience can get pretty stressful. No matter what, getting enough sleep before your flight, and during your holidays is very important.

Even if you think that you can catch a shut-eye on the plane, your quality of sleep will not be as good as it is when you’re lying comfortably in a bed. Environmental factors such as being crammed up in seats so close to your neighbours, or babies crying in the next aisle can definitely affect your sleep. Pack noise-cancelling headphones along with your neck pillows and eye shades for the best quality of sleep. Personally, I always pack my sleep aids because I can never sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time without them. It is important for you to be comfortable in your allocated space to enjoy that long-haul flight, and one of the best ways on how to stay healthy while travelling.

Hydrate yourself – with water

When you’re stuck in a pressurised metal tube with hundreds of other people breathing the same air, there will most definitely be a time when you feel your throat is extra dry. However, the air on the plane is cleaner than in most places. Most commercial aircraft are fitted with HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters. About 40 percent of the air in the cabin gets filtered through the HEPA system, while the remaining 60 percent is obtained fresh through a pipe from outside the plane. However, no matter how effective the HEPA system filters the air, making it safe for travel during COVID-19, all passengers and crew are still required to wear masks for extra protection and stay healthy while travelling.

The environment in the pressurised cabin is also super drying. I wake up feeling quite dehydrated most times, hence I always keep a bottle of water with me to constantly hydrate myself throughout the flight. While many international airlines offer an open bar anytime during the flight, drinking too much wine may make you feel more dehydrated. Plus, the air pressure is different while cruising, and may lower your alcohol tolerance too.

I’ve encountered countless travellers fainting due to dehydration. This happens despite the crew going up and down the aisle periodically offering water or juice. Have that free glass of wine, or three, but make sure you have sips of water too. A glass of orange juice helps to keep your blood sugar level in check too. This is my most important tip to stay healthy while travelling.

Eat something during the flight

If you’re travelling on a full-service international airline, you wouldn’t have to be worried about meals. There will be at least 2 meals served on flights longer than 8 hours. If you have dietary restrictions (e.g. allergies, gluten-intolerant etc), it’s best to book your meals at least 24-hours before your flight. You will definitely get your meal of choice, and need not fight 40 other travellers for something you might not even eat. There are truly so many to choose from: Fruit Platter, Muslim Meals, Vegan, Asian Vegetarian, Kosher, Pescetarian… you name it, they’ll have it. If you hadn’t pre-booked your meals, do inform the cabin crew serving you about your dietary restrictions.

If you have a severe allergy (e.g. nuts), you must inform the airline when you book your tickets so that your flight will be incident-free. Also, if you have an epi-pen for your allergies, do have it handy in your carry on, just in case you ingested something you’re not supposed to and flare-up.

Pro tip: Pack snacks for your journey. Especially when you’re travelling with children. Bring chips, candy or something that they will like to keep their mouths occupied and tummies filled. The airline might not provide snacks in-between services, or worst, run out. I travel on a plane so often that sometimes I get tired of the food, so I buy my own meals from fast food joints, or Pret-a-Manger whenever there’s one. I especially love their Mac and Cheese and salmon salads.

Get up and move around

This helps prevent deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a medical condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. Most commonly affects your lower legs and thighs, and are quite prevalent when you’re sitting in a plane, surrounded by dry air and the lack of activity in your legs. For those who are at increased risk of DVT, wearing compression socks may prevent DVT from occurring. For the rest of us, getting up to stretch in your seat, or go to the bathroom once in a while can improve blood circulation in your legs and stay healthy while travelling on a long-haul flight.

Remember, only get up from your seat when the seat-belt signs are off. Some airlines leave the sign on throughout the flight, so only get up when you feel it’s safe. Please don’t attempt yoga stretches on the floor of the plane and in the aisle. It is not safe, and ew, why would you lie on the aircraft floor? It’s really gross. Get up once in a while, and ask the friendly cabin crew for some drinks or snacks. You not only get to improve blood circulation, but you’ll also get hydrated too!

Bring your own medications onboard with you

If you have medication such as a Ventolin inhaler, or pills for your heart or any conditions you may have, do not check them in. You may think that you don’t need it for the number of hours you’ll be spending on the flight, but better be safe. That’s my motto. While airlines have first aid kits onboard, the most effective way to treat anyone who’s fallen ill during the flight is their own prescribed medication. I have encountered people who had asthma attacks on flights and said that their inhalers are in the luggage. Well, IS YOUR LUGGAGE ASMATHIC?

Also, it will be incredibly helpful to know the medical history of your travel companion. I guess it is something that doesn’t really come up in everyday conversations. But knowing what they are allergic to, or if they are taking any medications can help in case an emergency situation arise.

Don’t be that person who asks for a coke while a fellow traveller is being treated for a medical emergency.

What happens if you get sick onboard a plane?

While most people travel without incident, there could be an unfortunate time it might happen to you or people around you. Rule number 1: Don’t panic. It won’t help you, or anyone around you. Remain calm, and you’ll be asked about your medical history. Don’t hide anything from them. If you had an alcoholic drink on the flight, be honest. Nobody is going to punish you for it. Some medications will react badly with alcohol, and everyone is just trying to make sure you feel better.

If you have a cold and still got on that plane, let me tell you, it’s going to hurt. I have been there and done that. There was a time pre-COVID when I had a blocked nose and still went to work. My ears hurt upon landing, and I had tears streaming down my face like a crazy person. To prevent this, pack a nasal decongestant. Use as prescribed, or spray one before the plane takes off, and once before landing. Travelling with a blocked nose is not only uncomfortable, but you might also risk perforating your eardrums.

That time I got sick with the flu on the plane

A bunch of boys came back from their holidays in East Asia and one of them wasn’t feeling too well. His friends were excellent. They knew his medical history and told us the fun things they got into during their holiday. But the poor boy who was running a temperature was feeling poorly. So we hydrated him throughout the flight and made sure he was comfortable.

It was also pre-COVID times, so none of the cabin crew wore masks to protect ourselves from these occurrences. I was refilling the boy’s cup with warm water to keep him hydrated and of course, the virus got to me as well. I felt terrible for a week after that for I had chills, fever, runny nose – all the symptoms he exhibited. Plus god-awful body aches and do not wish it upon anyone.

The takeaway from this story is: Masks are important, pack them and wear them. Also, wash your hands regularly and sanitise them and your surroundings to rid yourself of bacterias and viruses. Please try not to travel when you’re sick. You’ll not only feel uncomfortable but you may risk the health of the people around you too. Reschedule, and wait till you’re feeling better before getting on that plane. If you do have to travel, take the necessary precautions. Bring your medication, drink lots of water and make sure you eat your meals.

In order to stay healthy during travelling and enjoy the rest of your holidays, you’ll need a good night’s sleep prior to and during your travels. Enjoying the free alcohol on planes are fine, but remember to hydrate a lot, and eat your meals. Stay healthy and enjoy travelling the world, people! It’s truly a privilege to hop on that plane and explore someplace new.

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12 thoughts on “How to stay healthy while travelling + the one time I got sick with the flu on a plane”

  1. This would have been helpful even before the pandemic! It seems like no matter how hard I tried, I always got sick after traveling. I haven’t flow anywhere since March 2020, but we’re looking forward to some adventures in 2022. I’ll keep this post handy!

  2. I found your blog very useful. I have never been sick on a plane, but it’s good to know the things I can do to prevent it.

  3. Thanks for sharing these tips. I am not a fan of being on a plane so I always like to do the most I can to prepare for a flight and these tips are great!

  4. These are great tips! Planes are such incubators for germs! I always catch a cold when I fly! I’m definitely going to pack a mask on my next flight and try out some of your other tips to try and avoid it! Thanks for the great guide!

  5. These are all good tips. I follow most of them when on a plane but in the current environment (and forever after), I will be packing a mask for use on the plane.

  6. Really helpful tips! Although staying hydrated is getting a little harder it seems now so many airports closed the water fountains due to covid-19. I hope they start to switch them back on again soon!

  7. I did all of these things apart from get on the flight fully rested, and ended up with a cold. Our trip was so hectic I hardly had any time to sleep, so I guess I should have seen it coming!

  8. You have a perspective that most of us don’t. I have been sick on a plane before and was so grateful for the little barf bag tucked into the pocket. We had one daughter catch a cold while traveling abroad. The bonus? We found the best nasal decongestant nasal spray and still buy it to have at home.

  9. Omg… I once got horribly sick to my stomach 1 hour into a 14 hour flight. There is almost no where worse to be sick than a plane. These are all essential tips and so so important for travel. Being prepared for stuff like this can go a long way.

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