How to Make Air Travel Less of a Pain

by Kathleen Gramzay

Air travel can be tough. Between schlepping bags, the mental duress of contending with possible schedule changes and the actual time stuck in a seat, flying can definitely be a pain. If your life involves cross-country or international travel, you are already keenly aware that 5 to 15 hours in a cramped seat can definitely cause some discomfort.

A recent flight to and from Greece, then from New York to Phoenix, had me using my favorite tips to stay comfortable on the trip. Try them to make your travel more enjoyable.

  1. Preflight. Instead of sitting while waiting for your zone to be called, find a corner and take the opportunity to stretch, reach and bend. 
    1. For Low Back. The arm of the end seat at the gate makes for a great bar to squat and do a low-back stretch. If you’re tall, use the ticket counter instead. Gently bend forward and hold on, with arms fully extended and feet planted. Slowly bend your knees and drop into a seated squat. Pay attention to the extending stretch in your low back, pausing in the spots where it especially feels good. You’ll be more comfortable on the flight and may inspire fellow travelers to follow your lead. 
    2. For Hamstrings. Use either a chair seat or the low tables adjacent to do hamstring stretches to keep from cramping on the flight. Place your heel on it, leg straight. Lean slightly forward and tilt your pelvis back to stretch your hamstrings.
  2. Get Aligned with Your Destination Time Zone. Set your watch to your destination time zone to start early adaptation to it. For international travel, night flights work if you can sleep on the plane and wake with the sun there. The trick is when you get there to not succumb to a nap but wait to sleep until night falls. If sleeping on a plane is challenging for you, better to do day flights. 
  3. Stay Hydrated. As always, staying hydrated is key for a healthy body and mind. When flying, it’s even more important to counter the lower humidity in air cabins that can cause dry eyes and leave you more vulnerable to possible infection. If you’re going to drink coffee or cocktails, do so in moderation and increase your water intake to offset them.
  4. Strengthen Your Respiratory System. Recycled air and a lot of people increase the chance of exposure to infection. I travel with a quarter-ounce bottle of eucalyptus oil, as eucalyptus kills bacteria in the respiratory system. Place a few drops in your clean hands, rub them together and inhale. If you’re surrounded by coughing and sneezing, it’s a life saver. Immune system boosters like Emergen-C or Airborne can also help.
  5. Stay Nourished. Travel with a healthy snack in your bag that works for you; almonds and miniature tangerines is a personal favorite. The protein and fruit provide a balance for blood sugar along with vitamin C. That and a bottle of water, and you’re set if there are delays in flight service. Staying nourished and hydrated also helps you stay mentally calm if there are unexpected travel challenges. 
  6. Keep Your Knees Lower than Your Hips. This takes the strain of the low back. Raise your hips by placing an airplane pillow just under your butt bones to increase the angle. During the flight, periodically tilt your pelvis back and forth to alleviate low-back stiffness.
  7. Move During the flight. Flex and circle your ankles every hour or so to increase circulation and counter swelling that can be caused by lower cabin pressure and reduced oxygen absorbed by the blood. (Also helps to counter deep vein thrombosis — blood clots). If you can’t stretch your legs while in your seat, be sure to get up and walk the aisle, optimally once an hour. 
  8. Be Productive Waiting to Deplane. Take advantage of the wait and move your parts — neck and shoulder circles, pelvic tilts, knee and ankle flexing to activate your muscles so you’re ready to move once you get to do so. Moving with ease lends to a more enjoyable trip whether for business or fun. 

Happy, smooth, comfortable travels to you.

Kathleen Gramzay, BCTMB, is a speaker, author, developer and national continuing education provider of Kinessage®. She is a soft-tissue and movement specialist serving wellness-conscious businesses and their employees to live more productive, joyful lives. For more information, visit

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