With a total distance of 9,531 miles (15,344 km) and a flying time of up to 18 hours and 45 minutes, Singapore Airlines flight SQ21 from Newark to Singapore is currently the longest commercial flight in the world.
New-generation, fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, lower oil prices, and a shift in customer preferences in favor of non-stop point-to-point flying have made ultra-long-haul flights more economically viable than ever.
While the idea of jetting off to faraway places may sound exciting, experts warn that long-haul flights can pose certain health risks. While there is a lot to be concerned about, there are certain things that travelers can do to prevent them.
For one, sitting in a cramped airline seat for an extended period can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots that usually form in the lower legs or thighs. While those who have a family history of the condition and are overweight are more prone to DVT, anyone can be at risk. Taking a walk around the cabin at least once every two hours can help avoid DVT, though simple in-seat exercises such as making circles with your ankles can also help.
Staying hydrated by drinking lots of water throughout the flight can also make a difference. The dry air, humidity, and lower oxygen levels can make you more prone to dehydration and its underlying effects. Drinks such as alcohol, soda, and coffee should be avoided since these drinks are diuretic and can make you urinate more often.
The dry air on a plane can also cause your mucus membranes to dry out, which prevents them from trapping germs. This, along with being in close proximity to anyone who may already be sick, can increase your chances of catching a cold. Experts recommend bringing hand sanitizer or wipes and minimizing contact with surfaces such as tray tables, window shades, armrests, and other surfaces where germs can accumulate.
While something can be done about the spread of germs, the same can’t be said about radiation exposure. Passengers are usually exposed to small amounts of radiation from space, which the World Health Organization says is linked to cancer and reproductive health issues. Fortunately, the amount of radiation most travelers are exposed to isn’t enough to be a huge concern, though this could be worrisome for very frequent travelers, pilots, and cabin crew.
The lower air pressure combined with humidity can also be a problem for the elderly and those with heart disease and other pre-existing conditions. The chances of a passenger needing medical attention increases the longer the flight is. Most crew members, however, are well-trained for these situations, and most airlines do have medical kits and equipment on board.
Despite these risks, flying on commercial flights is still relatively safe, thanks to technological advancements made in the past decade as well as stricter safety regulations. In fact, the biggest health risk that comes with flying doesn’t even affect the passengers but, rather, the people on the ground.
Experts say that planes emit particles and gases that contribute to climate change and have been linked to various illnesses such as lung cancer, which affects tens of thousands every year. Low-altitude emissions at airports also tend to be more harmful than high-altitude emissions caused by planes at cruising altitude, since airports are closer to where people live or work.
As climate change becomes harder to ignore and more industries are being pressured to reduce their impact on the environment, the aviation sector has been taking some measures to reduce pollution, such as developing more efficient aircraft, managing air traffic better to reduce fuel usage, and testing the use of low-carbon alternative fuels. While there is still a long way to go before aviation’s impact on the environment is significantly reduced, experts say that the industry is taking a step in the right direction.