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Seven steps to safer air travel

Ken Brough, Vol. #13 Issue #3
 Friday, May 11, 2012
Air travel can be stressful and harmful. Anyone who has sat in an airport for hours as their departure time was pushed later and later, or endured the middle seat on a long flight will know that while the destination may be enjoyable, the trip often isn’t.

People often think injuries occur as a result of one significant trauma. In reality, it is often a number of seemingly minor accumulated events that create a vulnerability. Business travel has a combination of physical, mental and emotional stresses that can combine to create a range of problems from frustration to serious injury. By following these seven steps you can greatly reduce the risk of injury and have a much more pleasant travel experience.

1.    Proper planning
  • Seat selection: Choose an aisle seat as close to the front of the aircraft as possible. Easy on, easy off, and more opportunity to get up and stretch your legs.
  • Pack it right, keep it light: Plan your packing. Take only essentials. Put heavier objects in your checked, or wheeled baggage. That hardcover book may be a captivating read, but it is dead weight when you are walking between connections.
  • Arrive early: Nothing causes the heart to race (and blood to boil) more than the fear of missing a flight. Plan at least a half hour time cushion for unforeseen complications. Use the web check-in to avoid the check-in chaos completely. Sign up for mobile alerts of flight delays or cancellations.
  • Connection alternatives: If your travel involves connections, print out connection alternatives in case one of your flights goes awry. I have prevented many travel disappointments by suggesting alternate routing when my initially scheduled flight had difficulties.  

2.    Wheels, wheels, wheels
The person who invented wheeled travel luggage should be given a Nobel Prize. Carrying heavy bags on the shoulder is a recipe for injury. Shoulder straps put severe pressure on the sensitive nerves of the neck, and cause stress to the discs of the neck. Whenever possible, wheel it.

3.    Create your environment
  • Reading: Bring a book, or your favorite magazines.
  • Food. Bring a healthy snack, if you are in economy class (careful not to violate the ban on liquids).
  • Noise cancellation headphones and iPods: Noise cancellation headphones reduce the ambient noise by up to 80 percent. Constant background noise greatly increases the stress one feels while traveling. A selection of your favorite music, while blocking out the background noise, can make traveling much more enjoyable.
  • Think about purchasing a pass to the executive lounge of the airline you use most often. It makes pre- and between-flight waits more relaxing, and more productive. Annual passes are around $400, and individual passes can be purchased for $15 to $30.  

4.    Move about
Have you ever sat beside a five year old on a flight? Remember how much they squirmed? You should too. Sitting in a cramped position is poor for your circulation. Five year olds don’t have to worry about deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs), but you do. Most airlines now have simple seat exercises in their in-flight magazines. They are easy to do and effective. Stand up and stretch your legs at least once an hour.

5.    Hydrate
Air travel dehydrates. A good rule of thumb is to consume a glass (300 ml) of water for every hour in the air. As tempting as it is, skip the alcohol, and limit your coffee and tea consumption. Feel free to ask the cabin crew for water.

6.    Neck support
How many times have you fallen asleep in your seat, to wake with a startle with your neck twisted and your muscles stretched? This puts the muscles and discs of the neck at considerable peril. Horseshoe-shaped neck support pillows help to keep your neck in a neutral position and greatly reduce the risk of neck injury. Inflatable pillows are easy to pack.

7.    Patience
Take it easy, some delays are beyond your control.

With appropriate planning and focus, airline travel can be safe, productive and enjoyable.

Dr. Ken Brough is clinic director of Glebe Chiropractic Clinic and Glebe Massage Therapy Centre.
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