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What are the hazards of long range flights?

Recently, many issues related to safety and health about long haul-flying have cropped up as more and more people are taking up to the skies. First and foremost, the issue of DVT or deep vein thrombosis. Then there is complaint of foul air with disease-causing microbes, cosmic radiations and air rage. Briefly, I will touch on some of them.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep Vein Thrombosis is a condition where blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. The clots can break up and travel to the heart, lungs and brain and this can lead to serious medical complications.

In the Air Travel Industry, this condition is often dubbed as the 'Economy Class Syndrome', but in reality, it can affect all classes of passengers in all forms of transport.

The exact cause of DVT is not very clear, but prolonged immobility and dehydration can increase it risks. Other risk factors include hormone therapy, the use of contraceptive pills, pregnancy, smoking, post surgery, advanced cancer, obesity and hereditary factors.

According to experts, people with the greatest risks of developing DVT are those with an inherited predisposition to blood clots - people who have suffered previous incidents of thrombosis. A consultant hematologist, Patrick Kesteven, at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital said that age is also an important factor. A person in his mid-20s has a less than one-in-10,000 chance of developing DVT; by 75, the risk is closer to one in 1000.

Many airlines have maintained that there is no evidence so far to suggest a busy aircraft cabin might be more dangerous than sitting still anywhere, whether on a crowded train, car, bus or even at home.

Tips on reducing risk of DVT:-

  • Avoid high consumption of caffeine and alcoholic beverages.

  • Increase consumption of other fluids, especially water or fruit juices to improve body hydration.

  • Do simple regular in-flight workouts. One such exercise is to raise the buttocks and thighs off the seats while seated and at the same time squeezing the toes and contracting the calf muscles. Another exercise is to bend and straighten the legs while seated. Both these exercises will improve blood circulation.

Foul Cabin Air

In 1996, the New England Journal of Medicine stated that "during most commercial flights today, cabin air is remarkably clean". In January 2001, a Major Airline in UK admitted to a problem with its fleet of Boeing 777s after crew members reported a high incidence of nausea and fainting. It was suggested that poor air circulation led to still pockets of air forming at head height in part of the airplanes. Boeing has said it is studying ways to improve the airflow.

It has also been suggested that air distribution in some of the aircraft cabin may contain microbes which have been recirculated and are liable to cause illnesses. But studies have suggested that proximity and not air quality is the issue when it comes to contracting colds and other illnesses.

Cosmic Radiations

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, at 12,000 meters ( about 37,000 feet), air travelers are exposed to as much as 265 times the radiation dose they receive on the ground. Those who fly long-haul receive an average of about three chest x-rays.

Maria Blettner, head of Germany Radiation Protection Commission, is finishing a large-scale mortality study on cancer among flight crews. Germany's Cockpit Association warns the finding will reveal breast cancer rates may be twice as high, and skin cancer rates may be as high as 15 times as those of the general populace.

Air Rage

According to the International Air Transport Association, incidents of Air Rage - the propensity of passengers who lost their cool in the air - increased by almost 500 % in the last half of the 1990s.

In the last 2 years, at least 3 people have died as a result of violent actions by enraged fellow travelers.

One of the major cause of air rage is due to drunkenness. In April this year (2001), a Briton was jailed in Spain for 4 years for smashing a vodka bottles into a stewardess' face, twin sisters were arrested for assaulting crew on a flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, a 52 years old Russian was accused of grabbing one passenger by the throat and stabbing another with a lighted cigarette lighter...

My advice - stay away from a person who appears to be drinking heavily. Request for a change of seating or keep the Cabin Crew informed of a potential drunkard.

Some people said that air travel has become less of an adventure and more of a calculated risk. Do you agree with this statement ? Me ? I enjoy flying and traveling by air !

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