Beating those 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 7 cm larger than the minimum IATA requirement of a mere 65 cm. Anyone taller than the average Grade 7 child is likely to have a Houdini-like experience on their long-haul or domestic flight. And need the services of a chiropractor on landing.

The kind of people who used to be torturers in the Middle Ages, now design airline seats and toilets. And cook airline food.

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. Deep vein thrombosis is not an urban legend.

It's an emergency. 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.

Front to back.. 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. Think of this idea as the triumph of hope over experience, but hey, I know someone to whom this happened.

Avoid the traffic jam. 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 sleeping very difficult. Being jabbed in the ribs or kidneys by the metal corner of the drinks trolley loses its appeal after a while.

As dry as dry can be. 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 moisturizer with you and a nasal decongestant. Unless you want to look like a saddlebag with eyes by the time you get to the other side.

Water, water, everywhere. Drink enough fluids (water, juice, tea and coffee) and steer clear of alcohol as it further dehydrates you. Airlines are also becoming increasingly less tolerant of drunken high-jinks. Misbehave and you could spend a few nights behind bars – and not the type that will give you a another pint.

Footloose and fancy free. 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. Just run for cover when the person in the seat next to you takes off his shoes.

Virus check. Air in the cabin is also recirculated, so your chances of being exposed to other passengers’ viruses are very high. Take a vitamin supplement before and after your trip. This goes even for people who are in the lap of luxury in first class.

Moving up in the world. 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. Thought that would get your attention. But seriously, sometimes it works. I have a friend who has a cousin who has a colleague who was moved into business class. Roll on, urban myths.

Motion sickness mayhem. 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. No flight is enhanced by finding out exactly what those little paper bags are used for.

Captive audience crisis. 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. Twelve hours of religious fervour or pictures of the grandchildren could get a tad tedious. Take something to read. This not only entertains you, but also puts off potential chatterboxes.

Noise, what noise? Consider taking earplugs on longhaul flights. A baby crying through the night on the seat next to you, is not a pleasant experience – especially if it is your own.

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 two weeks – it might make you feel better. – (Susan Erasmus Health24 Apirl 2008)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you 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.
Subscribe to News24