I am writing this from seat 13F on Southwest’s flight to Orange County, CA, headed to my role as chairman of this year’s IBF Conference on Consumer Health and Wellness Innovation. Ironic, I think, as I have become increasingly confident that air flight is the antithesis of health and wellness. Some people believe that the most dangerous place on earth is Somalia or Syria or the inside of Newt Gingrich’s brain, but in terms of places I am likely to go, I think that the inside of one of these flying tubes ranks right up there.
As I read my notes for the conference while standing in the line to board the plane, I noticed that the sign at the plane’s door informs you that the jet fuel fumes that permeate the jetway are known to cause cancer and birth defects. That was, of course, the first note of irony in my day, as I was reading about the kinds of activities individuals can and should do to minimize the risk of such afflictions as diabetes and cancer. The lists always includes eating broccoli and getting proper sleep, but no one has thought to put “don’t stand on the freaking jetway!” in any of their recommendations.
Last week there was an article on Fox News called, “Deep vein thrombosis risk increased by airplane window seats, experts say”.To quote from the article, “Economy class syndrome,” which suggests that air passengers in cheaper seats are at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is a myth, according to US researchers, who warned Tuesday that the condition was more likely to affect any travelers sitting in window seats. Experts from the American College of Chest Physicians said that economy class passengers on flights of more than four hours were no more likely to suffer from DVT than those in business and first class—but sitting next to a window made passengers less likely to get up and walk around. DVT, the formation of serious blood clots in the veins, has been associated with long-haul travel and is a potentially fatal disorder.”
Well that sucks, because 13F is a window seat, as it turns out. I always pick the window seat because I find it easier to sleep there to make up for the lack of sleep I usually get, leading to my inevitable early demise according to wellness experts. Thankfully it’s a short flight (good for DVT avoidance, bad for sleep catch up) and much to my relief, the same researchers also have determined that “passengers who drink alcohol on a flight were not any more at risk than nondrinkers.” If I match that tidbit up with the wellness experts who advocate one glass of red wine a day to maximize health and minimize diabetes and cancer, not to mention a bad attitude, maybe I can cancel out the jetfuel and window seat. Life is full of trade offs.
Truth of the matter is that getting DVT from a plane flight is pretty rare; however, worse dangers lurk on planes. A recent Wall Street Journal article thoughtfully outlined how germ-infested airplanes are and how traveling in them can lead to increased colds and flus, among other nastiness.
The article notes that “Air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection, research has shown. One study pegged the increased risk for catching a cold as high as 20%.” The article describes numerous studies that make you want to board a plane only while wearing a boy in the plastic bubble suit. For instance, “One well-known study in 1979 found that when a plane sat three hours with its engines off and no air circulating, 72% of the 54 people on board got sick within two days.” If I could get those kind of odds in Vegas, I’d be retired already.
Another fun fact: “Tracing influenza transmission on long-haul flights in 2009 with passengers infected with the H1N1 flu strain, Australian researchers found that 2% passengers had the disease during the flight and 5% came down within a week after landing. Coach-cabin passengers were at a 3.6% increased risk of contracting H1N1 if they sat within two rows of someone who had symptoms in-flight. That increased risk for post-flight disease doubled to 7.7% for passengers seated in a two-seat hot zone.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., the danger lurks in the two seats beside, in front of and behind you. In other words, you are surrounded; come out with your Kleenex up. Not only is it the coughing, sneezing fellow mortals that are out to get you, but apparently the tray table where you put your cocktails, the seatback pocket where you stow your iPad and the plane blankets and pillows are the worst offenders. Remember from your history books how the awful early American armies used to kill the Native Americans by thoughtfully providing them blankets infected with smallpox? Apparently this is the modern day equivalent. You may be cold on your midnight flight to Minneapolis in winter, but your odds of survival might be better from the frostbite than from the crap embedded in that blanket.
Oh, and by the way, the fun isn’t limited to the plane itself. In addition to having to show your day-of-the-week underwear to total strangers in the security line, the National Academy of Sciences has determined that security checkpoints are ground zero for the spread of infectious disease. They are currently in the process of conducting a two-year study about how best to tackle infection control in the airport. While you are waiting to be branded a terrorist, germs are collecting on check-in terminals, in plastic security check bins, and at baggage check-in points. It’s bad enough to stand in line and have some TSA agent touch your private parts without buying you dinner first, but when you collect your sunglasses from the bin which previously held some guys stinky shoes, you are not heading for a day of wellness as typically defined. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone clean those plastic bins. Nasty.
Ironically, the prize you get for frequent flying is points that allow you to fly even more. Those of us who travel frequently for work know you can amass enough frequent flyer points to get a free first class trip for two to Saturn, but, by that point, who wants to board another plane? And having learned that flying will cancel out whatever other healthy behaviors I may have managed to undertake today, it sounds even less appealing. I disembark shortly to attend the Health and Wellness Innovation Conference and I am going to be on the lookout there for an emerging company in the full body plastic bubble business. The outfit may not flatter the figure, but I might have a fighting chance of making it home alive.