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Off o­n holiday?   Remember you need to breathe in the cabin!

Many scientists, aircrew, and a large number of passengers, are becoming increasingly concerned about air quality o­n commercial aircraft.

The cabin air is a mixture of outside and recirculated air.  Other substances in the vicinity can add to this mixture, such as  ozone, and vapours from hydraulic fuels and engine oils. Combined with a low humidity, these can significantly reduce the overall air quality.

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Bad? It gets worse.

Over high altitudes there exists significantly reduced oxygen levels than at ground level.  Some people are sensitive to these reduced oxygen levels and reduced air pressure, such as those people heart or lung problems.

Now if this is not bad enough, consider the passengers aboard with associated odors and air borne bacteria.  With millions of passengers travelling every year, and an exponential rise predicted in the future, can the environmental control systems manage effectively?

The purpose of the air recirculation system is to reduce odors and air contamination of various forms. These systems also perform additional functions such as controlling heat. With a reduced amount of air circulation than experienced in a workplace, numerous symptoms can arise such as dizziness,  fatigue and difficulty in breathing.

It is a confined place , and little escape from, adjacent passengers with flu, colds or other airborne viruses and bacteria.  

Flight attendants experience frequent exposure to airborne pollutants.  The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) have reported that "We've had reports of headaches, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. We've had reports of heart failure in flight, fainting and breathing problems."

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Goodness! Should passengers collect face masks before boarding?

Some suggestionas include covering your nose with a wet handkerchief. You could also drink lots of  bottled water to avoid ther o­nset of dehydration. Dehydration makes people more sensitive to catching airborne viruses. 

Here are some sugggestions from a former flight attendant, Diana Fairechild,

'Because cabin air is typically very dry, with the humidity ranging from 1 percent to 10 percent, dehydration can result, creating a very dry state for the nose and throat, which promotes the development of coughs, sore throats, colds and other viral illnesses.

While o­n board, wash your hands with soap and hot water before you touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

Coat the inside of your nostrils with oil (almond, jojoba or olive oil) to keep them moist and prevent dryness and cracking, which can open the door to germs entering the bloodstream.

If you're sitting beside someone who is sick, ask to have you seat changed.

If you're already sick and can't get out of your flight, pack a self-treatment kit with a decongestant, saline nasal spray, and aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve headache or fever. (Aspirin should not be used for children recovering from the flu or chickenpox.) Changes in atmospheric pressure can push an infection deeper into your system and worsen congestion, especially in your ears.

If during the flight you begin to feel clammy or you have trouble with your vision or your thinking becomes unclear, you could be experiencing hypoxia -- lack of oxygen to the brain. You can request a portable oxygen bottle from your flight attendant. Each 747 jet carries about 30 portable bottles, and they are free of charge. You can also request a portable oxygen bottle if you're concerned about the quality of the air. Just tell the flight attendant you're having difficulty breathing.                    

Reference:   http://www.flyana.com/

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Where can I find more information and advice?

The Air Traveler's Handbook offers a fascinating insight into a range of issues associated with air travel around the world.   It states that many of the problems experienced by passengers are more likely due to dry air rather than stale air, although stale air can increase the level of the discomfort.

Useful advice is provided to alleviate problems experienced when flying:

" So if you suffer from sore throats, dry eyes, headaches, allergies,
itchy nose, or general fatigue when you fly, it might be due to dry

   +  If you wear contact lenses, take them out for the flight,
      especially if it is longer than an hour or two in duration.

   +  Drink lots of liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which
      tend to dehydrate you. Drink before and during the flight.
      Drinking water is good. Drinking a balanced electrolyte
      solution, such as gatorade/powerade, is better, as the
      carbohydrates in them let your body absorb them faster than water.

   +  If you suffer from dry skin, bring along a water sprayer and
      spray yourself o­n the mist setting. Hand lotion can also help.
      Some people feel that spraying water o­n your face or skin can
      make your skin even drier, if not chapped. Ask your
      dermatologist for advice.

   +  Don't take a decongestant before the flight, since this dries
      out your nose.

   +  If the air smells bad or feels stuffy -- a sign of stale air --
      complain to the flight attendant. o­n some planes pilots can
      control the mix of fresh and recycled air. (The pilots aren't
      affected by the stale air problem, because the **pit has a
      separate ventillation system, as mandated by FAA regulations.)

Likewise, if you suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, empysema,
severe allergies, or impaired immunity, consult your doctor for his or
her advice.  "

                                                                              Air Traveler's Handbook

Not surprisingly, aircraft manufactuers and airlines show confidence in their abilities to provide a clean, safe environment as illoustrated by the articles at Boeing and British Airways.

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Last modified: Tuesday, 30 October 2012, 9:21 AM