The Risks of Ultra-Long Flights


In 2017, the longest possible commercial flight was traveling from Auckland, New Zealand to Doha, Qatar. The trip was 17.5 long.

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These long flights are more efficient than ever. Also, they are becoming more economically viable than ever before. Unfortunately, they also take a significant toll on the body, has still not been recognized by any federal institution as an official public health risk.

An hour-long plane trip is fine. There aren’t many health risks attached to it. But that is just one-seventeenth of the flight from Auckland to Doha. When going on a flight of that length, many things need to be taken into consideration.

For example, sitting in a cramped seat for hours on end is not only unpleasant, but also might represent a health risk to the passengers. Sitting for prolonged periods leads to deep vein thrombosis, which causes blood clots because of the reduced blood flow. And the longer you sit, the higher the risk. In the worst-case scenario, one of those blood clots might break free and get stuck in a person’s lungs. Fortunately, these types of situations are relatively rare and can be avoided by walking around and flexing the leg muscles. Every three to four hours people need to stand up and walk around. If you are stuck in the middle seat, pumping your legs might also be enough to avoid deep vein thrombosis.

Staying hydrated is also a must. Avoiding soft drinks, coffee, and alcohol is imperative since they are all diuretics that force a person to pee more. Hydrating needs to be started in advance, ideally the day before the long trip.

There is also the issue with super dry air in the airplane cabin. The air in the plane dries the mucous membranes, which keeps them from trapping germs. This is not ideal since there is an excellent chance that people might contract the flu or some other illness from other passengers. The longer the flight, the longer the exposure to disease is, and contracting it becomes much more likely. And this is not due to recirculation of air in the cabin; it can happen just because someone sat next to someone who is ill. The airflow and circulation regulation systems are highly sophisticated in modern planes so just sitting in a cabin with a person that is ill is not enough to get sick. Trey tables, bathrooms, and other surfaces containing germs are much more dangerous. The airplane companies do try to clean the plane as much as possible, but sometimes that is not enough. Carrying hand wipes and sanitizer is always a good idea when going on a more extended trip.

Additionally, every time a person flies, they are exposed to radiation from space. The more time a person spends on a plane, the longer their exposure to radiation is. Luckily enough, the amount of radiation present falls within the recommended radiation exposure levels.

Interestingly enough, planes cause the most harm to the people who are below on the ground and not to the passengers inside. Their most significant impact comes from the emissions that cause an estimated 16,000 deaths globally each year. These emissions are linked to lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease.

Fortunately, long-haul flights spew less harmful chemicals into the air because they include fewer stopovers since much higher amounts of pollution are released into the atmosphere when a plane takes off or lands.

There is an idea to use electric aircraft to lower these emissions. Unfortunately, long-haul flights are not ideal candidates for electric crafts. Because of this, there is no obvious solution on the horizon.

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Editor's Picks

There are very few people on this planet who enjoy their work more than Aner Banner. His friends often readily admit that Aner eats, sleeps, and breaths science 24 hours a day. He is always challenging old methods, proposing new ideas, and seeking to solve difficult problems. Aner spends most of the day imparting his wisdom to the young minds of a small elementary school. Thankfully he has also mastered the art of making science come alive for the future leaders of our nation. He is loved and well respected by students, parents, and faculty alike. His motto forever remains “never stop learning.


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