Take care of yourself when flying long distances

After several years of restrictions on travel opportunities, this winter season is expected to be the first in which the nordic travellers head towards more distant shores outside of Europe on a larger scale. Get the best advice from doctors regarding long fights.

The winter months are the peak season for travel to the USA and Asia, and a journey to Thailand or New York involves a long flight that can be demanding, both mentally and physically. For most people, it has a been few years since their last long flight, and in light of this, the doctors at SOS International have put together their best advice for air travellers:

General advice for long flights:

  • Be as active as possible. It is recommended that you stand up and walk around a little every hour. Move your feet often while sitting down.
  • Drink a lot - but lay off coffee and alcohol
  • Exercise caution with sleeping medicine
  • Compression stockings can help to prevent blood clots on flights lasting more than four hours

Do you have health problems?

If you have health problems, you should consult a doctor before going on long flights. Some conditions can actually be made worse by the flight.

Semera Asghar, Chief Medical Officer at SOS International and Anaesthesiologist at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, explains that long flights may increase the risk of blood clots, particularly in the legs but also in other places. And the risk is increased if you are already in a high-risk category.

In other words: Patients with cardiovascular diseases, cancer and impaired immune systems must be extra careful and should take their own precautions before a long flight. Patients with lung diseases should also take their own precautions before a long flight.

“These conditions are generally worsened, as the oxygen saturation in the air inside aircraft cabins is not as high as on land, so it can become difficult to breathe for people who have pre-existing lung conditions. There is also a difference in the air pressure inside aircraft cabins and this, combined with the fact that you are sitting still most of the time, may cause dehydration and your blood to become thicker and circulate around the body at a decreased rate. The likelihood of getting blood clots is therefore increased,” says Semera Asghar.

Medical pre-assessment

If you are chronically ill, under evaluation or your illness is unstable, SOS recommends that you undergo a medical pre-assessment. A medical pre-assessment can clarify how the patient’s trip will be covered by insurance and how a flight can affect the patient’s health.

If you do not have any known health problems, there are still a number of things you can do to ease the discomfort of long hours inside the aircraft cabin.

Helpful tips to prevent jet lag

  • Plenty of fluids - dehydration enhances jet lag symptoms
  • Ensure to get out in the daylight when you arrive at your destination
  • Follow the local daily rhythm in relation to meals and your bedtime
  • If you already know that you will have problems with jet lag, you can talk to your doctor about prescribing melatonin

Make the journey as comfortable as possible

  • Ear plugs and a sleeping mask can aid in getting a better sleep
  • It can be a good idea to bring a neck support pillow
  • Avoid wearing tight and constrictive clothes
  • Remember headphones, reading material and other forms of entertainment

Are travel patterns back to normal?

At the peak of the summer season in 2022, SOS experienced an activity at the alarm centre for travel assistance that was 80-90 per cent of the level in 2019. So far, it seems that the autumn and winter season will continue at the same, or slightly lower, level.

The wild card in this respect is the effect of inflation and the energy crisis on personal finances - and how much of an impact this will have on travel plans.

Tips for a safe and secure journey to Thailand and the Philippines: 

Travel advice for Thailand

Tips for travelling in the Philippines

Contact us

Are you travelling and in need of acute assistance?

Contact SOS International's alarm centre on +45 7010 5050.

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