This is What Happens to Your Body When You Fly

It’s hard to keep track of your health when you are busy traveling.

Keeping watchful of connection times and gate numbers, making sure all of your belongings (and family members) remain with you at all times, traveling can be a stressful event.

Even for veteran travelers, traversing through airports can be a stressful and exhausting experience. It seems that the hardest part of air travel is just getting you, your belongings and your companions onto that plane before the gate door closes…

...but studies have shown that the more taxing part of your air travel begins long after your flight takes off into the sky.

Today we will be talking about what happens to your body when you fly, and what you can do to ease these pilgrimage pains.

Your tastes buds numb

There is a reason that airline food tastes so bland, and

To begin with, your sense of taste is caused by the reaction of your saliva coming into contact with food, and then that mixture creating a chemical reaction against your tongue. The key aspect of this phenomenon is a moist mouth and a healthy tongue, and that is something that is difficult to naturally produce when one is a mile high in the air.

Think of it as if you were tasting food while sick with a cold. Things just don't taste as good.

When we fly in a pressurized airplane, our body has a difficult time combating all the pressure changes. As a result, mouths dry, tongues tend to slightly swell, and out eustachian tubes (the little pipes that run between our nose, mouth and ears) all get a little tight. Combine all these aspects, and your sense of taste can be knocked way off --as much as 40%.

According to a study conducted by German airline Lufthansa, the human body goes through a lot when high up in the sky, and when it comes to eating and taste --the hardest job would be that of the chef.

“One problem with airplane dining is that parched cabin air quickly evaporates nasal mucus” said a food-study representative for Lufthansa. “Up to 80% of what we consider taste is actually smell”

As a result, flavors have to be kicked up, and the heavy flavors that are used sparingly at sea level become a main ingredient when served up in the air. Potent flavors like curry and salts are used in abundance just to ensure that you can at least taste something when that meal cart comes rolling by.

Blood starts to pool

The average flight time from Los Angeles to New York is just around 5 hours.

When we sit in one place for that long in a seated position, the blood tends to pool in our legs and feet. This is what often leads to swollen feet and ankles in some individuals. The heightened elevation doesn't help this inflammation either.

What you want to do is keep that blood flowing, as blood pooling over and over again can potentially lead to blood clots in some extreme circumstances.

Standing up and walking around every half hour or so, straightening your legs,  or even just flexing your ankles and feet can help offer some relief to that achy feeling.

You might feel more gassy than usual

No, it's not just because you decided to scarf down that bean and cheese burrito just before boarding.

You may feel slightly more gassy after the plane takes off because of the natural reaction gas has when the outside air pressure goes down -- it expands.

When flying in an airplane, you going higher in elevation causes a pressure drop outside of your body. This causes your body to try and rebalance by counterbalancing the pressure (notice that pop in your ears?). This pressurizing and depressurizing can cause the gas inside of you to expand, compress, and expand again --which makes you feel a little more gassy than usual.

This is totally normal.

The best way to react to this sensation is to relax, and just let it happen.

As embarrassing as it may sound, passing the gas is much better for you than just holding it in. When you hold it in, you are allowing the pressure to build up and remain inside of you --which causes discomfort, pain and in some very extreme cases ...pockets and folds in the the lining of the colon.

Your skin dries up

That icky feeling you have on your skin after a flight? That one of “I feel gross and in need of a shower”? That’s because your skin is dried out.

The dry cabin air has been known to suck the moisture right out of your skin (as well as your nose and mouth) and leave you feeling itchy, oily, and overall not yourself.

A simple solution to this issue would be to apply moisturizers and lotions, sure. But not everyone’s skin type is able to be helped by topical solutions.

The answer? Ask any flight attendant: drink lots of water before and especially during the flight.


Flying doesn't have to be a stressful experience. The more you know about how it affects your body, the better you can prepare your body, and even your mind.


Works Cited:
Wright, Tony. “Middle-ear pain and trauma during air travel.” Clinical Evidence. 2015.
Michaels, Daniel. "Test Flight: Lufthansa Searches For Savor In The Sky." WSJ. 2010
"Blood Clots And Travel: What You Need To Know” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016.
“Cabin Air Pressure” World Health Organization.
"Flatulence On Airplanes: Just Let It Go” New Zealand Medical Journal. 2013.
Guéhenneux S, et al. "Skin Surface Hydration Decreases Rapidly During Long Distance Flights” Skin Research & Technology. 2011.


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.

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