Most people know that flying on an airplane brings with it some health risks, such as air quality concerns and blood pressure issues. However, for frequent flyers and those who actually work on the planes, those risks not only get more serious, but they get more varied. Here are some of the most common health concerns faced by airline crews, including flight attendants, and what can be done to lower your risk or treat the issue.
Known colloquially as jet lag, circadian rhythm disruption is something that affects sleeping patterns not just in the short-term but can permanently affect the quality and duration of your sleep if you commonly travel across time zones and work where others wouldn’t. Flight crew members show a much higher risk of chronic jet lag. You can help reduce your risks by limiting the amount of very long-haul flights you work on. There are a lot of healthy sleep habits that can help maintain a proper sleep cycle, too. Avoid changing your sleeping schedule on days off and try to go to bed around the same time as you would at home as you do across the world.
There have been a lot of concerns about air quality in the cabins of an airplane. However, the truth is that these concerns are slightly overblown. If you weren’t already aware, then the mixture of fresh and circulated air on planes tends to make them just as hygienic, if not more so, than other similarly enclosed spaces. Many of the urban myths about a lack of airflow are just that, as AskThePilot.com states in great detail. However, air dryness is one of the most common issues. It can irritate your throat and vocal cords, especially on long flights. For that reason, amongst many others, ensure that you are always staying thoroughly hydrated on your flights. Furthermore, the dryness can be bad for your sinuses, making it easier to catch bugs on the plane, so practicing good hygiene is essential.
This moves us onto our next concern. Hygiene should certainly be a concern for each and every person on the aircraft. With limited space and many surfaces that can get touched by many people in a single flight, as well as the air dryness, a bug can have a whale of a time on a flight. The best thing you can do is practice proper hygiene as best as possible. Most flight attendants don’t go anywhere without a bottle of hand sanitizer and neither should you. If you notice anyone with a cough or a sneeze, avoid getting too close and wash your hands after helping them in any way.
Any sounds over 85 decibels increase your chances of hearing loss. The longer the exposure and the louder the noise, the greater your risk. You might only make a couple of flights a day but take-off and landing both reach around 105 decibels. At cruising, they stay around 85 decibels. Similarly, you can be exposed to noise levels just as high when you’re in the airport or preparing for take-off. Providers like Starkey.com can help by providing special hearing protection if you’re not working on a flight. However, while on duty, flight attendants usually aren’t allowed to wear any kind of hearing protection. Your best bet is to have a hearing test done once or twice a year, depending on how often you fly and how long those flights are.
Bad eating habits
When you’re constantly on the move, it’s not uncommon that you have difficulty settling into something resembling a routine diet. You might not have the foods you want accessible at any one time, for instance, which can result in some pretty bad eating habits. Exercising some control is always possible, however, and you can make it easier by taking tech like the HAPIfork with you. This can help you ensure that you’re eating at the right time and eating at the right speed. Eating slower tends to encourage better habits in regard to portions, managing cravings, and more. You need to keep an eye on not just what you eat, but how you eat, as well.
Lack of exercise
For long-haul flights, especially, it’s not uncommon for the sometimes-sedentary nature of the job to be a concern. What’s more, even if you’re on your feet, the combination of jet lag and a busy schedule can make it hard to fit in some proper exercise. The best way to combat that is to learn how to fit in smaller intervals of exercise, no matter where you are. Portable fitness tips as featured at Travelandleisure.com show that you don’t necessarily need to go to the gym to maintain a healthy weight and level of activity. A kit as simple as a skipping rope and a yoga mat can help you stay active no matter where you happen to land.
Putting your back out
In combination with the difficulty exercise, the confined space and the stresses of the job can rather regularly lead to musculoskeletal disorders, including chronic back and joint pain, as CDC.gov shows. Lifting luggage, pushing wheelchairs, pulling the food cart, and other repeated motions, as well as standing for long periods of time, all increase your risks. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise outside of the cabin are two key ways to reduce your risks of pulling something seriously. Training for safe lifting and handling of heavy objects is crucial, and if there’s anything making your job unnecessary difficult, such as a broken wheel on a cart, you should highlight it to your superior as soon as possible. The job can be demanding enough, already, after all.
As mentioned, the immune system can be somewhat compromised up in the air, thanks to the general hygiene concerns and the dry air in the cabin. Most flight attendants you will ever meet have a supply of vitamins for every flight for precisely that reason. Keeping your immune system as strong as possible is essential when working a job that puts you in such close quarters with so many people. What’s more, multivitamins can be a crucial part of helping to supplement a diet that can be difficult to keep consistent because of travel. Vitamin C pills, flaxseed oil and fish oil capsules can help you avoid some of the most common deficiencies, but all changes should, of course, be cleared by your doctor first.
It’s a scary word, indeed, but studies have found that flight cabin crews are at a greater risk of cancer than the average population. With new treatments being researched thanks to teams like HeraBioLabs.com and an increase in general awareness, mortality has dropped significantly, but exposure to more carcinogens and altitude-based radiation are significant enough to warrant some concern. You should practice self-screening when possible, especially after a warm shower when the body relaxes more, and you are better able to feel any suspicious lumps. Make sure that cancer screenings are part of your annual check-up, too. Try to reduce risk factors in your own life, including alcohol consumption, smoking and second smoking, and exposure to direct sunlight.
Though they are not necessarily common, airplanes and airports are often some of the most sensitive areas where it comes to communicable disease outbreaks. Naturally, you are going to get the mandatory vaccinations for any of the areas you travel to, but you should also do a little research on destinations that have diseases for which the vaccines are not mandatory. Similarly, know countries in which mosquitoes are an issue and practice the proper safety measures, like using mosquito nets and bug sprays, to keep yourself safe. Your employer and the CDC will have guidelines for managing any sick passengers and crew, so make sure that you’re up-to-date on the protocols. If it’s before a flight and someone shows symptoms, you should alert your superiors where possible. People who show symptoms of a communicable disease can be removed or prevented from boarding a plane.
From the sleep disturbances to the physical aches and pains, stress is far from uncommon in members of flight crews. What’s more, there are concerns that the average flight crew environment does not react to stress in a healthy way, often with stigmas prevailing. Learning stress management techniques can help you keep an even keel from day to day. However, if you’re beginning to grow concerned that your mood is drastically worsening over time, you discuss your problems with a counsellor or psychologist. Changes to your work life to help you maintain a better work/life balance may be necessary, too.
Spending a lot of your life in the air isn’t exactly a natural way to live, and that should be taken into serious consideration as far as your health is concerned. You don’t necessarily have to fly and work in fear, but you should make the necessary lifestyle changes and monitor your risks more carefully.