Fly first class, don't eat the fruitcake, and other tips to survive holiday travel

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published December 20, 2017

Key Takeaways

This holiday season (December 23 through January 1) will have the highest year-end travel volume on record as 107.3 million Americans take planes, trains, and automobiles to visit loved ones near and far, according to AAA estimates.

About 6.4 million Americans will travel by air—a 4.1% increase since last year, and the fourth year of consecutive increases in air travel volume, AAA predicted. Pack your patience because you’ll encounter those crowds as soon as you reach the airport. To make it a safe and sane journey, follow the following tips for healthy traveling this holiday season. And at all costs, avoid the fruitcake.

Fly first class

“Economy-class syndrome” refers to venous thromboembolism (VTE) that occurs mainly in passengers in the economy class seats during long-haul flights. One meta-analysis found that the relative risk of VTE was 2.8 (95% confidence interval: 2.2-3.7) in flights lasting up to 8 hours. That risk increased by about 26% for each additional 2 hours of flight time.

To prevent this risk, movement and exercise—either in the airplane seat or getting up and walking down the aisle—gets the blood moving. Compression stockings have a protective effect, although aspirin (as a blood thinner) does not. Because the air is very dry on planes, staying hydrated helps too.

Don’t drink the water

Yes, staying hydrated is important. But the drinking water on airplanes—which is also used to make coffee and tea—may be less sanitary than the water found in the airport you just left. Data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency showed that 12% of commercial airplanes in the United States had at least one positive test for coliform bacteria in 2012. The presence of coliform suggests that other harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, may also be in the drinking water. A study of international aircraft found nearly no coliform, but did report a wide range of bacterial isolates, including many that are potentially pathogenic.

In short, you’re better off bringing bottled water on board. And you may want to skip the coffee anyhow, as it only increases dehydration.

Leave your shoes on

You do a lot of walking when you’re traveling, so it can be a relief to slip off your loafers or high heels when you settle into your airplane seat. But you might want to rethink that idea. Don’t forget you just took off your shoes to go through security, and you followed in every other passenger’s stinky footsteps. Even worse, the airplane carpet doesn’t get cleaned as often as you might think, so it’s rife with germs and dirt, according to flight attendants. If you want to feel comfy, bring a pair of slippers for the plane ride.

If you booze, you lose

If you want to get the most bang for your booze, then drinking on an airplane is an enjoyable way to do it—because the altitude heightens the effect of alcohol, right? Nope. That myth was debunked decades ago. You’ll get just as tipsy at sea level as you will at cruising altitude. The real reason to avoid alcohol in the air is that familiar foe of flight—dehydration. Alcohol, like cola and coffee, is a diuretic. Still, if you want that glass of wine or whiskey to settle your jangled nerves, drink as much water (from your water bottle!) as you drink in alcohol.

Don’t eat the fruitcake!

When you finally reach your destination, don’t reach for that slice of fruitcake. One piece of fruitcake can contain as many as 460 calories, 17 g of total fat, 8 g of saturated fat, and 46 g of sugar.

Also, you never know how old it is. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other,” Johnny Carson quipped on The Tonight Show. Indeed, a fruitcake can age 25 years and still be eaten and enjoyed (well, it can still be eaten, anyway). Just have a piece of fruit instead.

Happy and healthy holiday travels!

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