Flying Healthy: Delta’s Chief Health Officer Shares Tips

Somehow, it’s almost October, which means that the holiday travel season is just around the corner. While flying on an airplane may not be as stressful as it was in 2020, there are still several health considerations to keep in mind before boarding the cabin. In 2021, Cardiologist Henry Ting, MD, MBA joined the Delta Air Lines team as its chief health officer, focusing on reinventing air travel during the pandemic. Today, his responsibilities extend beyond just keeping COVID-19 out of planes. Dr. Ting has led the development of an extensive update to Delta’s in-flight medical tools, including the Medaire’s in-flight MedLink app, which enables cabin crew to communicate with doctors on the ground in real-time during medical emergencies on board. He has also advised on the addition of vital diagnostic equipment, such as pulse oximeters and automatic blood pressure cuffs. According to Dr. Ting, the aim was to address the most common medical emergencies encountered during flights and provide the necessary equipment for better diagnoses. Neurologic symptoms, ranging from temporary loss of consciousness to seizures, are the most common conditions experienced by passengers. However, pulmonary issues such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and chest heaviness are also fairly common. Delta’s additional tools aid the cabin crew in accurately determining the source of these symptoms and deciding whether it is necessary to divert the flight.

While these new gadgets are beneficial for individuals experiencing medical distress on a plane, Dr. Ting emphasizes the importance of passengers taking precautions to prevent some of these emergencies and not compromising their own safety. If you’re interested in learning how to stay healthy while flying, Dr. Ting shares five things he would never do on a flight, regardless of its duration.

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Firstly, Dr. Ting advises against consuming excessive amounts of alcohol while flying. Alcohol is a common culprit behind in-flight medical emergencies. It acts as a diuretic, which intensifies the dehydration already experienced by travelers due to the low humidity levels in the cabin. It’s best to drink alcohol in moderation, as you would in everyday life, to avoid any adverse effects on your health.

Secondly, Dr. Ting suggests keeping all essential medications in a personal item or carry-on rather than checking them in a bag. This is especially crucial for individuals with conditions that require fast-acting medication, such as diabetics who rely on insulin or people with severe allergies who carry epinephrine shots. Even if you believe you can go a few hours without your medication, it’s always wise to have them within reach. In the event of a flare-up or any delays or issues with checked luggage, you won’t be without your prescription for an extended period of time.

Next, Dr. Ting cautions against taking sedatives during flights. While they may seem enticing to help with sleep or relaxation, these medications can have unpredictable effects on neurotransmitters. In some cases, rather than sedating you, they may actually stimulate you or result in restless sleep with fewer hours of REM. Instead of relying on sedatives, Dr. Ting recommends investing in a good neck pillow, wearing warm and comfortable clothes, and bringing along a small bag of your favorite candy to help alleviate anxiety.

Furthermore, on long-haul flights, it’s crucial to avoid staying seated for the duration of the journey. Dr. Ting advises following the guidance of your smartwatch or fitness tracker and getting up every hour or so to keep your blood circulating and reduce the risk of clotting. When your device alerts you, take a short walk to the bathroom or up and down the aisle. If you’re concerned about disturbing a sleeping seatmate, you can perform seated exercises like calf raises or ankle rolls to keep your blood flowing.

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Lastly, even though COVID-19 may feel like a distant memory, it’s important to continue prioritizing respiratory health while flying. Dr. Ting recommends packing a mask in your carry-on in case you find yourself seated next to someone with a respiratory infection or experiencing cold symptoms. Wearing a mask provides protection from respiratory viruses, not just COVID-19. It’s a simple precaution that can help ensure a healthy and enjoyable travel experience.

By following these guidelines from Delta’s chief health officer, passengers can prioritize their well-being and make their air travel experiences safer and more comfortable.

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