Beat the economy-class blues

Yes, airline seats have become smaller. The jeans you can no longer get into may be your fault, but not necessarily so with seat 24C in economy class.

Unbelievable as it may seem, the average airline seat is still about seven centimetres larger than the minimum IATA requirement of a mere 66,2 cm. Anyone taller than the average grade-seven child is likely to have a very unpleasant experience on their long-haul or domestic flight.

But there are other things that can also make your flight less than pleasant. Here’s how to cope with possible hazards:

  • Try to get an aisle seat. It is less claustrophobic as you can get up and walk around without having to climb over anyone else. Moving around is also good for your circulation, and helps to prevent deep-vein thrombosis.
  • Ask for a seat on the emergency exit if you are tall. It is a good idea to arrive early for check-in while these are usually the first to go. There is usually a lot more leg room, which can make a huge difference. If you are sitting in a desperately confined space, you could hurt your knees, or get leg cramps.
  • Most airlines fill up the plane from the front. Unless the plane is completely full, if you ask for a seat in the back row, chances are you will have an empty seat next to you. If the arm rests lift up, you might even be able to lie down. Don't count on this, though, especially during peak holiday season.
  • If possible, try to avoid sitting near the toilet or the kitchen, as there is constant coming and going of staff and passengers and this makes sleep very difficult.
  • The air in most aeroplanes has a humidity of less than 20 percent. It dries out your skin, and can cause nasal dryness. Take a skin moisturiser with you and a nasal decongestant.
  • Drink enough fluids (water, juice, tea and coffee) and steer clear of alcohol as it further dehydrates you.
  • On long flights, your feet can swell up. Wear shoes you can slip off easily, but wear warm socks as there are air vents at floor level and your feet can become very cold.
  • Air in the cabin is also re-circulated, so your chances of being exposed to other passengers’ viruses are very high. Take a vitamin supplement before and after your trip.
  • If you are unhappy with your seat, wait until the plane has taken off and ask the air stewardess if you can move. Most of the time they will do what they can to accommodate you.
  • If you get air sick, steer clear of rich foods before and during the flight. Rather go for fresh fruit and juices and steer clear of alcohol.
  • As the plane descends, the change in altitude could cause earache. Swallow constantly or chew on a sweet to relieve this.
  • Unless you are feeling particularly sociable and the person next to you looks interesting, avoid chatting. You could end up with a chatterbox the whole way and you are pretty much a captive audience.
  • Try to relax and accept your situation – being agitated will only make the flight feel longer. If you can sleep, all the better. If you think it's necessary, speak to your GP about getting something just for the flight to relax you, and possibly let you sleep.
  • Take something to read. This not only entertains you, but also puts off potential chatterboxes.
  • Consider taking earplugs on long-haul flights. Listening to a baby crying through the night two seats away from you is not a pleasant experience.
  • If you are uncomfortable, or sitting in a ‘middle’ seat, try and compare the discomfort of a few hours with the alternative of being seasick for three weeks (the only way to travel a century ago) – it might make you feel better.

- (Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2011)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9938 votes
72% - 25987 votes