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Inside cabin. Photo by caribb on is it that the early days of air travel seemed so much more fun? The days when women wore their best dresses and men wore three-piece suits really defined the term jet-setting. I’ve often wished I could have experienced air travel when stewards served succulent meals and passengers cavorted and sipped champagne in the first-class lounge.

Contrast that with modern air travel, where passengers are herded barefoot through serpentine security lines and then forced to cram onto the plane like sardines. Forget dinner-we’re lucky if an overworked flight attendant has the time to toss a packet of pretzels our way. 

Passengers in the 1950s must have disembarked feeling more refreshed and rejuvenated than travellers do today. Because of the stale air, the unhealthy food, and the sedentary hours, I can barely survive one New York to San Francisco trip without ending up thoroughly bedraggled and in dire need of a shower and a nap (although not necessarily in that order).

Air travel might not change for the better in the future, but there are easy ways to refresh yourself onboard to avoid spending your entire trip just recovering from the flight. 

Tips to help you cope on a long airplane flight

Sleeping on the plane. Photo by floralbrigades on

Do Some Air-obics
Sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for circulation; it can contribute to swollen limbs and leave you feeling lethargic. Long flights can also put passengers at risk for deep vein thrombosis (called DVT), a blood clot that usually occurs in the deep veins of the legs. For most people, the risk of developing DVT is small-about one in a million-but since the clots could shake loose and cause a pulmonary embolism, they are severe enough to warrant immediate hospitalization. Keeping circulation steady is a good way to prevent a clot from forming. 

People who are under forty, of normal weight, and without any pre-existing health conditions shouldn’t worry too much about DVT, but it’s good to do onboard exercises anyway because they keep you alert and energetic. Qantas, an Australian airline that offers many long-haul flights, recommends that on any flight longer than four hours, passengers should do easy exercises for a few minutes each hour. Try stretching and making circles with your ankles, lifting your knees up to your chest, rolling your neck and shoulders back and forth, and doing easy forward reaches. Periodically getting up and walking down the aisles is another a good way to relax stiff muscles and re-energize the body. If you need a little bit more room to do stretches, flight attendants will often allow you a few feet of space near the galley. Even an exercise as simple as curling and releasing your toes is enough to stimulate blood flow. The American Council on Exercise even recommends these exercises to decrease the effects of jet lag.   

Makeup bag. Photo by TheKarenD on Flickr.comBeauty at 36,000 Feet

Plenty of companies make them, but I’ve never quite understood the point of spending upwards of a hundred dollars on a special “flight beauty kit,” especially when it only contains Lilliputian-sized products. If you know what your go-to essentials are, it’s easy to construct your own arsenal of the beauty products you need in order to step off the plane looking fresh. It may not seem like a big deal if you’re arriving at night, but when you have to go right from an airport to a meeting or interview, the preparation can definitely come in handy. A little bit of primping can also mentally revive you in the middle of a long trip. 

Forget expensive eye creams-the most important items in your in-flight cosmetic bag are a lightweight moisturizer, lip balm to battle dry air, and individually-sealed makeup remover cloths for refreshing your skin and doing touch-ups. Don’t forget about hands, arms, and legs, because the recycled air can dry them out just as much as the skin on your face. One of the handiest items to carry is something to freshen your mouth after eating. A travel toothbrush, wipes like Oral-B Brush-Ups, or disposable brushes like Colgate Wisps are all much more useful (and healthier) than gum or mints. Some women may swear by pricy mineral water misters, essential oil sprays, or dry shampoo powders, and they all do feel like a treat when you’re feeling cramped and crabby, but whatever your secret weapon against air exhaustion, just remember to make sure it’s smaller than three ounces. 

Bottle of water. Photo by darrylh on Flickr.comFlying the Comfy Skies

Besides hourly stretching and moisturizing, there are simple things you can do while traveling to prevent in-flight discomfort and lessen the likelihood that you’ll arrive at your destination rumpled and grumbling. Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t bunch, ride up, or constrict. It’ll make sitting for hours that much easier. If you are over forty, pregnant, have blood-clotting issues, or any other risk factors for DVT, it might be worthwhile to invest in a pair of compression hosiery. These stockings prevent blood from pooling in the legs, and even if you’re not at risk for DVT, they can still help keep your legs from swelling or feeling uncomfortable. You might feel like you need a few cocktails to help you make it through the screening of Kangaroo Jack, but lay off the alcohol and caffeine.

Both can lead to dehydration, which could possibly thicken your blood and makes clots more likely, as well as make your skin feel dull and create a general sense of malaise. Stick to water, and drink as much as you can. If you end up having to use the restroom once per hour, the short stroll can give you a few minutes to stretch your legs. 

Not that many flights serve dinner anymore, but most travel experts recommend eating light while you’re traveling. The air pressure can cause your organs to expand, making you feel fuller. Bring your own healthy snacks and try not to be tempted by the cookies, candy, and fatty treats at the airport. 

The discomfort in flying doesn’t always come from the altitude or the air pressure. It comes from being cooped up with two hundred strangers who are all breathing the same stale air. There’s no need to pick up cashmere blankets or special inflatable pillows to keep comfortable. Stay active, hydrated, and sober and you’ll reach your destination looking and feeling great.

This article was originally featured on in August 2009. Reproduced with permission.

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