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Plane Comfortable

How to get cozy while cruising at 36,000 feet.

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(Photo: Gary Hovland)

Unless you’re flying first class, flying isn’t comfortable.

“Seats are jammed together, and you’re cramped in a tight compartment,.” said Dr. Paul A. Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Getting yourself as much space as possible is a good start. Airline loyalty programs often come with free upgrades. And many airlines offer some version of a premium coach seat that will buy you a few inches. Limiting yourself to one carry-on that fits in the overhead turns the space under the seat in front of you into extra leg room.

Dress for comfort in clothing that won’t pinch, poke or squeeze. Raid your gym bag and don sweatpants or yoga pants. Sports bras, generally free from hooks and underwires, can be a godsend for female flyers. Use some of that carry-one space for thick socks you can wear in flight, your own cozy blanket and snacks so you’re not at the mercy of the airline’s offerings.

Anderson also recommends priming your spine for the flight by drinking plenty of water.

“Your discs in your spine basically are water sponges,” he said. “They absorb water at night and slowly, during the day, you squeeze that water out of your discs.” Proper hydration gives you more of a cushion.

Because airplane seats lack support for the natural curve of the lumbar spine, Anderson says you might feel better with a small pillow for your lower back. “That actually decreases your intradiscal pressures,” he said. Try out the pillow in your car before you fly to make sure it’s a good fit.

For your neck, consider one of the many neck pillows on the market, which Anderson says need not be fancy. “They come from very cheap to very expensive. Don’t spend a lot of money on it,” he said.

However you settle in, don’t stay that way too long. Get up once an hour or so to walk the aisles, and try to get some exercise between flights to flush out the waste products that naturally accumulate in the muscles.

“Our body uses sugar and oxygen and breaks it down into lots of byproducts,” said Anderson. “This stuff all has to be washed out of our body, and part of it is the pumping action of our muscles.”

A few creature comforts, proper hydration and proper support will make your next flight less of a pain in the neck.

Read more articles about travel-related health topics. AAA.com/LiveWell

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