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Sick of Traveling? Don't Take It Sitting Down

Illustration for TIME by Daniel Egneus

Do you ever feel as if your travel schedule is wearing you down? Doctors and frequent flyers alike have long been concerned about the effect of recycled air, cabin pressure and jet lag on passengers and crew. Now there is a recognized medical condition linked to stagnant circulation from long periods of immobility in cramped seats. "Economy-class syndrome," or deep-vein thrombosis, can lead to a blood clot in the lower legs that can travel to the lungs and cause respiratory complications. Smokers and elderly travelers are probably at greatest risk; watch for signs of persistent leg pain following a flight, as well as coughing or chest pain. Health experts recommend that you stretch, flex your legs, walk around the cabin, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol during a flight. If you're also prone to back pain, keep the blood flowing by putting an extra pillow under your knees, or use your briefcase as a footrest to raise your legs.

Every year, more than 1,000 air passengers die from heart attacks during flights. To cope with such risks, airlines routinely carry onboard medical kits, and carriers increasingly are stocking cardiac defibrillators that can shock the heart back into its normal rhythm. In February, Qantas ground crew used one to save the life of a passenger about to board a flight in Hong Kong. In April, British Airways began installing the systems on its aircraft, while American Airlines, Delta and United have recently added them to long-haul flights. Virgin Atlantic, the first airline to carry defibrillators, recently upgraded its onboard medical kit with a satellite-linked communication system that provides instant access to physicians who can diagnose and supervise treatment of ailing passengers. Virgin's gate agents can similarly access the system to assist flyers before boarding. The carrier also plans to introduce inflight remote monitoring devices that relay data such as a passenger's oxygen level, heart beat and blood pressure.

Of course, jet lag is still the No. 1 physical complaint among travelers. A recent survey by Hilton International found that 41% of frequent flyers take time off to recover after a business trip; 32% said they feel less productive once they get back to the office; and 25% said they are now experiencing more sleepless nights during business trips than they did two years earlier. To combat the effects of time-zone hopping, eat lightly (or not at all) and go to sleep when it's bedtime in your destination's time zone. Once you've arrived, iron out the kinks with a massage, like the renowned anti-jet-lag treatments offered by the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok and the Okura in Tokyo. To help flyers reset their body clocks, Hilton has introduced "sleep tight" rooms that simulate night by blocking out light and noise, or create a sense of daytime with nature sounds and artificial sunlight.

If it's more than jet lag that ails you, choose a hotel with care. Bangkok's Oriental, for example, features a medical clinic with nurses, oxygen tanks and a large stock of medicine, while the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore retains a full-time medical concierge to look after guests' needs.


June 21, 1999

Hot Tip
For ease of access, disabled travelers are well-served at many Asian hotels

Web Crawling
A handy guide explaining how to avoid common air travelers' complaints and a website posting country updates on vaccines and medical requirements

Thailand becomes a regional healthcare hub, highlighting holistic treatments like herbal medicine and massage

Main Feature
There is now a recognized medical condition linked to long periods of immobility in cramped airline seats

ASIANOW Travel Home | TIME Asia home



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