What’s worse than feeling constipated? Feeling constipated at 30,000 feet for 14 hours.
But much like how you snake around luggage-fumbling fellow passengers who crowd the aisle during boarding, you can outmaneuver the most common self-inflicted afflictions of the international air traveler, bloating included. We’ve teamed up with United Polaris to gather the science on why you don’t feel so hot in the air, as well as what you can do to mitigate discomfort. Read on to see if you’ve ever been one of these five cranky airline passengers, then take note of our doctor-approved tips to ensure you never have to be them again.
Seat 7G: The One Who’s Bloated
Before the flight attendant can clear the silverware from the dinner service, this passenger senses an uncomfortable pressure in his stomach. He knows the human body is about 60 percent water. At the moment, however, his feels more like 99 percent gas. You see him rifle through his briefcase then abruptly stop ― must have forgotten to replace the emergency antacids. And now he’s booting up his laptop, Google Translating “constipation” into Mandarin. They’ve got to have good natural remedies in Beijing, right?
“Your body is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” Dr. Wanda Filer says of that unmistakable backed-up sensation. “It moves the fluid from the gut into the regular circulatory system.” According to Dr. Filer, a past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, cabin pressure is a contributing factor to bloating, but the real culprits of constipation are a lack physical activity and proper fluid intake. Drink extra water and try a few yoga moves while waiting for the lavatory, and you just might be able to forgo a painful midnight search for Chinese bismuth after you land.
16A: The One With Tight, Red Skin
Every 20 seconds, her fingers dig into her cheeks, chin or forehead. Even from where you’re sitting you can see how tight and shiny the skin is ― her face bears an unfortunate resemblance to a red mylar balloon.
The airplane cabin’s ambient humidity can be much lower than that of your office or home, which can cause skin problems, says Dr. Barney Kenet, an attending dermatologist at the New York–Presbyterian Hospital; his travel-friendly skincare products are featured in thousands of Hyatt Hotel rooms worldwide. “If you’re in a dry environment, the surrounding air pulls moisture from your skin through osmosis ― water moves from a higher concentration to a lower concentration,” he says. “Therefore, your skin gets dried out.”
Dry air can also cause skin to look red and inflamed, which coffee, alcohol and salty food exacerbate. Avoid 16A’s fate by employing Dr. Kenet’s simple fix: Ziploc a washcloth with a few cubes of ice and a splash of milk, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. After you board and settle into your seat, apply the cool compress to your face (or these wipes, if you don’t have time to grab a Ziploc), promptly following up with a fragrance-free moisturizer to lock in moisture while the skin is still slightly damp.
Just remember, drinking water isn’t a substitute for a solid skin care routine. “I recommend drinking water [on a plane] for a lot of other reasons, like blood clots,” Dr. Kenet says. “But I’m totally unimpressed with that for skin. The aesthetic impact of hydrating that way … is less than [that of] a cool compress and moisturizer.”
24B: The One With A Toothache
There’s only two more hours until the plane touches down in Johannesburg, but by the way the passenger in 24B is moaning, that might be two hours too many. At some point between his second helping of vanilla ice cream and third glass of pinot noir (hey, it’s called a “cheat day” for a reason), he began to wince. What started as a pinprick has now transformed into an unrelenting throbbing through his entire jaw.
“A drop in cabin pressure will cause air trapped under loose fillings or in cracks to expand, and that can be very painful,” says Dr. Sivan Finkel, a dentist at The Dental Parlour in New York City. He recommends getting a dental checkup before an upcoming flight if you’ve felt any recent sensitivity in your teeth. If you’re already on the plane and need immediate relief, avoid ice, hot and cold drinks, and stay hydrated. Once you’re on the ground, a hotel concierge can connect you with a local dentist that can treat your condition. (Help for the sweet tooth, however, should be sourced elsewhere.)
3K: The One With A Huge Pimple
The captain is telling passengers on the left side of the plane to look outside their windows for a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. But not to worry if you’re sitting on the right ― Mr. 3K has the eighth Wonder of the World blooming smack in the middle of his forehead. Of course this would happen the day before his keynote speech at the annual company conference in Tokyo.
“Your adrenal glands respond to emotional and physical stress,” Dr. Kenet says ― stress that includes the fatigue involved with traveling. These glands make cortisol that then increases the oil production in your sebaceous glands, found throughout your skin. The result? Oily skin and pimples. Use meditation and deep breathing ― Dr. Kenet is a fan of Ujjayi Breathing ― to curb stress-related oil production before it starts. And if you’ve already started breaking out, “buy Visine, put it on a Q-tip, and dab it on the pimple,” Dr. Kenet recommends. “It will literally get the red out.”
12E: The One With Bad Breath
This woman’s got a stale, fuzzy taste in her mouth, but it isn’t until she expels a quick test breath into her palms that she’s able to confirm it: Eau de Swamp Monster. When a flight attendant asks if she’d like another beverage, 12E speaks softly and into her hand, determined to catch the radioactive puffs. The attendant is a lovely person with a full life ahead of him who doesn’t deserve to go out like this.
“A dry mouth can cause bad breath,” Dr. Finkel says. “Saliva has some antibacterial properties that counteract acidity. We’re more prone to cavity-causing bacteria and the destructive effects of the acidity of the food that we eat.” Opt for lots of water and pass on the alcohol. You’ll keep your mouth hydrated and ensure that innocent flight attendants remain free of contamination.
United Polaris is United Airlines’ all-new business class service, featuring a reimagined, built-from-scratch experience that prioritizes sleep and rest with the goal of making jet-lagged business travel a relic of the past.