Flight Survival Wellness Tips For On The Plane

Flight Survival Wellness Tips For On The Plane

I am currently sitting on a plane coming from Mexico. Hurtling through the air, I have had plenty of opportunities to ponder the “non-crash” related health and wellness issues of flying.

As I look around from my seat, I see a variety of health concerns that come to my attention. To begin with, I have been in the air over an hour without seeing a single person pass my seat to use the spacious lavatory located at the back of the plane. This lack of traffic tells me two things; that my fellow travelers do not realize the absolute detrimental effects of extended periods of sitting, and that not one person has been hydrating sufficiently to warrant appropriate toilet use on an every-two-hour schedule.

I consider this might be a topic worthy of jotting a few notes , so I  retrieve my laptop from the small space between my feet and endeavor to document my insights for an easy-to-read editorial. Here goes. 

Flight Survival Wellness Tips For The Plane


  • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate Due to the forced air circulation, air travel dehydrates a body much more rapidly than normal activity. Hydrating more often the day before, the day of, and the day after long plane travel is essential. While traveling, also consider forgoing the alcohol, coffee, and soda options. These beverages can further dehydrate you and make you more susceptible to fatigue and immunosuppression.
  • Support   Make sure you place a small pillow behind the small of your back for the duration of the flight. If you have wee little legs, make sure you use your briefcase or carry-on bag to provide a foot rest. Thighs that are pressed into the seat too firmly, due to improperly supported feet, can result in circulation issues and cramping.
  • Move   GMet up and move at least every 90 minutes. Poor seat structure and immobility can lead to leg cramps, back pain, irritability and mental fogginess. Did you know that through a concept called “proprioception,” simple movement of your spine stimulates nerve pathways that control mental clarity, immune function, blood flow and feelings of wellbeing? When your spine doesn’t move for long periods of time all of these essential functions are slowed or stopped.
  • Dietary recommendations   An airplane is a festering colony of bacteria and viruses. You do not want to witness what I saw on a recent newscast regarding what can be colonized off a seatback tray! Try taking 1000mg of Vitamin C every four hours on the day that you fly. Also, consider Melatonin if you suffer jet lag. Melatonin is an excellent way to help you transition to your new or old time zone. Poor sleep before, during or after a flight can depress the immune system and make you susceptible to all those bugs flying around the cabin of the plane. 
  • Food   Consider lowering your sugar intake for a three-day period on either side of your flight. Sugar is a lethal immunosuppressant. Pack healthy snacks with unprocessed, wholesome  ingredients. Eat lots of fruits and veggies for natural immune boosters and antioxidants.
  • Seat Exercises   Every fifteen minutes or so try one of these “seat” exercises to stimulate blood flow and muscle contraction, so you are not stiff and sore upon arrival.
    1. March in place getting knees up as high as your seat arrangement will allow.
    2. Perform ten to twenty “butt squeezes” holding each one for a count of ten
    3. Push your head back against the seat while tucking your chin. Hold each “chin tuck” for counts of ten.
    4. Perform gentle neck stretches by dropping your head side to side and then forward and holding each stretch for a count of ten.
    5. Twist your body at the waist as if looking over your shoulder and hold for counts of ten. Also, perform this spinal twist to the right side.
    6. Grasp one knee and pull it as close to same side shoulder as possible for a count to ten and then take the same knee and pull it to the opposite shoulder for a count of ten.
  • Lavatory/Galley Exercises  Here is a secret tip. As soon as the drink cart passes your seat to start service it means that galley at the back is going to be empty for at least 20 minutes.  Walk inconspicuously to the back of the plane to do a couple of stretches. You can perform most of these from inside the confined space of an airplane bathroom. (Except the Horizon flight to Portland, that bathroom is small!)
    1. Standing, bend over and hang as far as you can to approximate your toes. A forward bend is excellent for blood flow and stretching your hamstrings.
    2. Stand up on your toes and then rock back on your heels several times.
    3. Grasp your ankle with your same side hand and bring it toward your same side butt muscle. (Think runner’s stretch.)Excellent stretch for the front of the thighs. Hold for counts of twenty and repeat on the other side.
    4. Side-bend, running your fingers down one outside seam of your pants and then the other. Hold each stretch for a count of twenty.
    5. Finally, WIGGLE. I mean it! Wiggle around as much as you can like you have ants in your pants. Any movement will stimulate blood flow and proprioception to your brain.
  • Sleeping  If you choose to sleep on a flight make sure your head is properly supported and does not have the opportunity to flop from side to side. A U-Shaped pillow can be a most helpful carry-on. Don’t forget your low back pillow placement mentioned above. Eye masks and earplugs also help with a more restful sleep.

[Tweet “Make sure to fly right with these healthy tips! “]

My husband and I love to travel. However, I do find he meanders off frequently when I start my yoga stretches on the floor of the airport before boarding.  I also suspect he pretends he doesn’t know me when I board with three one-liter bottles of water, several doses of Vitamin C, homemade healthy snacks, and a small pillow. He does however, appreciate the infrequency of health issues that we suffer even though we are frequent flyers.

 As my plane from Mexico meanders through the sleepy sky toward Seattle, I must complete my writing assignment, put my laptop aside, and head for the back of the plane. I will find a small space where I can spend just a few moments bending and wiggling my way back to a healthier me before we land. Happy flying!


This week how about anytime you are sitting for any length of time (plane or no plane) you practice some of the wellness “sitting” exercises described above. Whether you are high in the clouds or sitting at your computer, it is absolutely key breaking up the immobility of sitting! 


Cervical Plane Pillow

Lumbar Support Pillow



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34 Responses

  1. These are such great tips!! I almost always feel awful the day after a flight – I get mini viruses almost – I needed this!

  2. This is great advice that I’ll definitely be keeping in mind for my upcoming flight in early January. I’m definitely guilty of not drinking enough water on planes so I’m doing to make sure to buy a bottle of water before boarding this time.

    1. Good work! It is the little things, Right? I feel so much more clear-headed after having tons of water!

  3. Great tips for flying! I can be often found near the ‘spacious’ lavatory just standing around; seats nowadays are so tiny and cramping that it really does pay off to move around especially during long flights!

    1. It makes such a huge difference. Even just a few minutes back there wiggling around can be hugely helpful!

  4. This is very helpful! I will definitely follow your advice on the sleeping as I am guilty of sleeping and waking up with a sore neck on the plane.

  5. Great tips! I just had two long-haul flights in November and it was very challenging for me, so I will certainly try your tips during my next flight!

    1. Way to go, Raluca. It is those long flights that are the killers! A little stretching and hydrating goes a long way!

  6. Wow these tips are super!
    And you’re right about the poor seat structure. I really wonder why flying economy is sooo uncomfortable.
    I usually like to drink tea after the in-flight meal, but hopefully hydrate sufficiently to make up for it.

  7. I am going to be taking a long flight from Massachusetts to California this upcoming spring, so this is so helpful to me! I haven’t flown in a few years, so I need a little reminder of everything I should do and not do. I am definitely investing in a neck pillow for the flight and loading up on water. I’ve learned the hard way not to rely on the pillows they supply you with, or rather my neck did. I also agree that moving around really helps. I’m also packing an eye mask and some sound cancelling headphones this time around!

    1. Perfect Angie! And, sadly, there are no pillows, blankets or even smiles on flights anymore. Be prepared. 🙂

  8. I’ve read a few similar lists but you have included a few new tips I haven’t seen! Ill be sure to take Vitamin C before I fly next.

    1. Yes, Laura! It is super important. Sugar can dump your immune function for hours!! Best to avoid around travel time!

  9. As someone who frequently travels, I sure love to sleep on flights! I probably should get up and walk around the plane but I have really bad motion sickness. I never realized how filthy a seat tray could be so def going to pack those Vitamin C packets!

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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