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Transportation Science

How Flying Seriously Messes With Your Mind and Body (bbc.com) 264

dryriver writes: BBC Future has an interesting piece about how traveling in an airliner does strange things to people's minds and bodies, such as far more people starting to cry while watching even mildly emotional movies on airplanes than what is normal, some passengers experiencing decreases in acuity of sight, taste and smell (airline meals are over-seasoned to compensate for this), unusual tiredness or desire to sleep, your skin drying out by up to 37% percent and possibly becoming itchy, and some people breaking wind far more often than they normally would. Here is an excerpt form the report: "There can be no doubt that aircraft cabins are peculiar places for humans to be. They are a weird environment where the air pressure is similar to that atop an 8,000ft-high (2.4km) mountain. The humidity is lower than in some of the world's driest deserts while the air pumped into the cabin is cooled as low as 10C (50F) to whisk away the excess heat generated by all the bodies and electronics onboard. The reduced air pressure on airline flights can reduce the amount of oxygen in passengers' blood between 6 and 25%, a drop that in hospital would lead many doctors to administer supplementary oxygen. There are some studies, however, that show even relatively mild levels of hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen) can alter our ability to think clearly. At oxygen levels equivalent to altitudes above 12,000ft (3.6km), healthy adults can start to show measurable changes in their memory, their ability to perform calculations and make decisions. This is why the aviation regulations insist that pilots must wear supplementary oxygen if the cabin air pressure is greater than 12,500ft. A study in 2007 showed that after about three hours at the altitudes found in airline cabins, people start to complain about feeling uncomfortable."
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How Flying Seriously Messes With Your Mind and Body

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2017 @05:12AM (#55237187)

    It means a woman was sitting next to me by the window seat, we made sporadic awkward and stilted conversation during our meal, and she left halfway through claiming she had to powder her nose but never came back.

    At least now I can claim it was mild hypoxia on both our parts. Usually it would only apply to my bits.

  • AALS (Score:4, Informative)

    by quarkoid ( 26884 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @05:18AM (#55237205) Homepage

    Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome. It's a thing. First mentioned on the BBC's premier film programme (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lvdrj/episodes/downloads [bbc.co.uk]) and detailed in their Witterpedia, http://witterpedia.net/wiki/index.php?title=AALS [witterpedia.net].

    • Re:AALS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @07:36AM (#55237641) Journal

      How about "going away from family and friends and the familiar, perhaps for an extended period, causes sadness easily triggered to tears by a mildly sad moment in a movie syndrome"?

      • Yeah... you're going to make that a lot shorter if you want it to become a thing that can be acronymized.

      • Re:AALS (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:30AM (#55237917)

        How about "going away from family and friends and the familiar, perhaps for an extended period, causes sadness easily triggered to tears by a mildly sad moment in a movie syndrome"?

        What makes you think all people are flying away from their families? I would suggest that close to half of people are flying towards their home family and friends.

        • Re:AALS (Score:4, Funny)

          by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:57AM (#55238071) Journal

          How about "going away from family and friends and the familiar, perhaps for an extended period, causes sadness easily triggered to tears by a mildly sad moment in a movie syndrome"?

          What makes you think all people are flying away from their families? I would suggest that close to half of people are flying towards their home family and friends.

          Oh, that other half gets depressed at the idea of getting back with the family and friends and stress created by maintaining the facade, known as the bonfire of the vanities syndrome.

      • Or "being sealed in a cramped aluminum tube moving at speeds guaranteed to kill if anything serious goes wrong, and placing your life in the hands of people you've never met, after waiting in line and being groped by other strangers"?
        • after waiting in line and being groped by other strangers"?

          Prostitution is illegal where I live. What choice do I have but to pay the TSA? I find that if I go through security three or four times on the same ticket, they give me extra service! Sometimes they even upgrade me to a private room where I feel a little less self conscious. Buying a plane ticket is much less expensive than getting bailed out of jail as a John.

      • Mildly or otherwise.

        It is most probably reacting to generally emotionally charged scenes.
        From a comedy where all goes well in the end to the scene in an action movie where the hero is triumphant.
        With a tendency towards crying at happy moments. [thisamericanlife.org]

        My guess... based on personal experience, and not even related to airplanes...
        It's something related to low blood pressure and how that relates to oxygenation of the brain... and empathy.
        Cause basically... people who cry at those emotional scenes are empathizing with t

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @05:19AM (#55237209)

    The Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 supposedly feature improvements in cabin air pressure, with pressurization to 6000 feet equivalent, as well as increases in humidity.

    Unfortunately, they still aren't that common.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @06:08AM (#55237325) Journal
      I've only flown on a 787 once, but it's a huge improvement over any other standard-class flight I've been on. The higher pressure is really noticeable - I got about 4 hours of work done, and slept soundly for much of the rest of the time. Oh, and it was the only flight I've been on (including in business) where the skin on the lower halves of my legs didn't dry out and remain itchy for a week afterwards.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2017 @06:28AM (#55237395)

      The Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 supposedly feature improvements in cabin air pressure, with pressurization to 6000 feet equivalent, as well as increases in humidity.

      Unfortunately, they still aren't that common.

      Not sure about the A350, but the 787's composite fuselage allows for higher humidity, too.

      Water and aluminum equals corrosion, so aluminum airliners fly with extremely dry cabin air because the cold outside would cause condensation on the aluminum, leading to corrosion and planes falling apart much faster.

      Which isn't a good thing.

      But composites apparently aren't (as?) susceptible to water-caused corrosion (or degradation), and I bet they don't conduct heat was well so there's less condensation in the first place.

      Higher humidity means less impact on the mostly-water meatbags inside the sardine can.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2017 @07:23AM (#55237583)

        Years (Christ, decades!) ago I was an engineer at Boeing and we looked into some report that said something like "people experience nosebleeds on aircraft 840% more often" and we talked to doctors who traced it to low humidity in the cabins. We designed a humidifying system (corrosion wasn't a problem, but the duct work had some ordinary steel components that needed to either be replaced or they would rust quickly). The system design predicted a system weight of about 200 pounds, and management figured no one would want it so they killed the project there. They were probably right; American was ordering planes with a brushed aluminum finish because they didn't want the weight of the paint on the aircraft.

      • The lower humidity is not to protect the metal. Anyway aluminum does not corrode, it forms such a strong layer of oxidized aluminum lower layers are not exposed.

        The lower humidity is simply to save money. They bleed air off the third or fourth stage ring of the jet engine to pressurize the cabin. When the dry upper atmospheric air is compressed it produces extremely dry air for the cabin. They use humidifiers to add water vapor. To save cost to carry less water. 20 gallons of water more = 75 kg more = 1 f

        • They can easily design a bigger tank, and add more water on flights that are not full and increase the humudity in the cabin, if they want to. But they don't care.

          If it is possible to supply extra humidity only to targeted passengers, then they would be interested in the idea. 20$ more for extra humidity seats.

        • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

          There are airplane graveyards in the New Mexico deserts. The location were chosen specifically because of the dry air.

          "Pure" aluminum doesn't corrode after the first layer of oxide is laid down if the water is acid free.

          Airplanes don't use pure aluminum, since it is way to weak.
          Water is rarely neutral or salt free coming from the atmosphere.

    • They say that the effect stands out particularly if you flew a different aircraft right before flying a 787 or A350.
    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      I've been looking forward to those. I live at 7100 feet, in the southwestern desert. I'd like to ride on an airplane that's more comfortable than being at home.

    • I have flown 2-3 times a year between Copenhagen and the US on the 787, and it was a very pleasant experience. I have managed to sleep on the entire flight after dinner and only woke up twice to sip a bit of water. But it was on their premium seats where you can put the seat much more horizontal and there's a foot rest as well. I have never been able to sleep on a plane before. It was quite strange/depressing to go to sleep after taking of in the warm weather and then waking up in show in Copenhagen, but I

  • Obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @05:25AM (#55237219)

    Some of those chemicals of the chemtrails will get into the cabin,

  • by burhop ( 2883223 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @05:45AM (#55237259)

    For those that didn't RTFA, it seems tomato juice tastes much better on a plane. I fly a lot and can say almost every airline also carries spicy tomato juice for bloody marys too.

    My wife just asked me the other day why I always get tomato juice on a plane but not at home. Thank goodness for slashdot in helping me become more self-aware.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @06:10AM (#55237329) Journal

      On a plane, you sweat a lot because of the lower air pressure, but don't notice it. It's important to drink a lot of water to keep hydrated, but it's also important to replenish the salt that drinking all that water washes out of your systems. The spicy tomato juice cans have about 50% of your RDA of salt and are great for avoiding headaches after a long flight.

      Oh, and gin and tonic is one of the few alcoholic beverages that tastes better at low air pressure.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 )

      For those that didn't RTFA, it seems tomato juice tastes much better on a plane. I fly a lot and can say almost every airline also carries spicy tomato juice for bloody marys too.

      That's because your taste receptors become less sensitive. The food they serve on planes is typically seasoned more heavily than normal because people's ability to taste is reduced. Therefore it's not surprising that your perception of tomato juice might be different on a plane than on the ground because it's typically quite salty.

      • It is the other way round for me. The same (Lufthansa uses a pretty common brand) tomato juice tastes somewhat more salty at the cruising altitude than on the ground.

    • Hah, I'm the same: always drinking tomato juice on planes, and never anywhere else. Glad to know I'm not the only one ;-)

      Anyway, I'm sure being stuck in one position, with no space for your legs, and possibly next to people you really don't care about, is surely also a factor in any sensation of discomfort one might have... When I stand up after a long flight, it is not because I want to get off the plane urgently, but simply because I cannot stand sitting anymore.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hmmm...Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home.

    • I always get the tonic water. I'm not a huge fan of tonic alone on the ground (too bitter), but at altitude it tastes amazingly lemony, with the bitterness being quite refreshing.
  • there are lots of common peculiar places for humans
    • there are lots of common peculiar places for humans

      Agreed. 100 years ago a peculiar place for a human would have been hurtling 70MPH down a freeway, surrounded by 10,000 other humans doing the same thing.

      Today, humans are so ignorantly comfortable with that environment that they often read, smoke, eat, drink, and apply makeup while attempting to steer 2,000 pounds of steel down said freeway, trying not to run into the other 10,000 humans around them doing the same thing.

      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        Cars of 100 years ago were much less comfortable than cars available today.

      • Dear lordy lord, if only I could find a steel car which only weighed 2,000 lb. Someone tried to get me to buy an Opel GT once, but I couldn't actually fit in it. I wasn't even fat yet, I'm just too damned tall.

  • Hyperloop....

    Yeah! Airplans sucks!

    Regards,
    Elon

  • When/where does anyone get fed on a domestic flight in 2017? Or is this a rehash of a story from the bronze age of flight (pre-9/11) when you stroll down concourses without tickets and could safely make your flight if you were there an hour early.
  • I was wondering why I was tearing up at the end of "Bad Moms" (of all things!) last week when flying from San Diego to BWI.
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday September 21, 2017 @07:02AM (#55237499)

    From where I live, the flight to Las Vegas is fairly long. Dehydration leads to raging thirst, and oxygen deprivation cripples my cerebral cortex so badly I usually wind up allowing the small auxiliary brain located just below my belt buckle to do most of the decision making.

    Unfortunately, abstinence and virtuous behaviour are not exactly its strong suit.

  • I think Slashdot should try to make a "Metric First" campaign and apply it to its news posts.
  • This description of the airplane cabin seems to have a lot in common with my current workplace.

  • Well, that explains why the SkyMall gets any business: Hypoxia-induced purchases of stupid things.

  • That is bad, but the airlines these days seem to be focused on making a miserable experience even more miserable. I cringe when they close their introductory announcement with "sit back and enjoy the flight." Well, used to; these days I fly only when I have no choice.
  • On The Physics? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:16AM (#55237855)
    Fascinating post, article and lots of good comments on this - thank you.

    With the caveat that I don't know what I'm talking about [ ! ] the article got me thinking about the way that our senses operate differently at altitude. Essentially, this means, "at a significantly different atmospheric pressure"... So obviously the first thin to think about is : what, exactly, is that pressure difference? Well, according to this calculator, at mide.com,

    https://www.mide.com/pages/air... [mide.com]

    A "typical" air pressure at sea level might be 101.325kPa[kiloPascals], in which case the corresponding air pressure at 8,000ft would be approximately 75,250 kPa - which is approximately 75% of sea level pressure. OK, for a "starting point", I'd hope we'd agree that this delta is sufficient for physical and chemical reactions to be potentially altered.

    Then I got to thinking about passengers from a physiological perspective. Essentially, the human being is a mass of semi-permiable membranes. Yes, there is plenty of chemistry going on within us - turning foods into energy, for example - but it also stands to reason that our 5 senses are going to be quite sensitive to changes in pressure... For example - a reduced atmospheric pressure will mean that inhalations bring fewer air molecules in to our lungs, which would also surely involve changes in our sense of smell. OK, I don't know how pressure differential would impact the dispersal of scent chemicals in a gas mix, but there is likely to be a difference...

    Our sense of taste is going to be based on diffusion and/or osmosis, as the chemical trace signatures of what we eat are absorbed and processed by the cells in our taste buds. But of course the actual mechanics of tasting are going to be based on chemicals being transferred into saliva and then offered up to the taste processing centres on our tongues. Whether the underlying processes are osmosis or diffusion, or a mix or variation is almost secondary to the point that there will be something like this underpinning the necessary chemistry that drives the sense of taste. Mess with partial pressures, absorption rates, osmosis or diffusion rates and it rather makes sense.

    If we were sensitive enough, we might even expect to witness a very slight change in the sense of touch... Just as we know that limbs can swell in low pressure, so sub-cutaneous blood capillaries are going to change and this should impact our touch. Would sight be impacted? Perhaps, if the lower atmospheric pressure caused a slight outward swelling of our eyes?

    The thing that really interests me, though is the comment from TheRaven64, where they observe that Gin & Tonic is "one of the few alcoholic beverages that tastes better at low air pressure." Describing something as "tasting better" is way too subjective for us to be likely to reach a consensus upon, but the observation of the change, alone, might be enough to suggest that there could be ways of compensating for altitude-related changes to our senses by altering the composition or chemistry of what we eat...

    Lastly - just as a final thought - I wonder if gravity [or the absence of it] plays a part in our senses too? OK, so the reduction in the gravity we experience between sea level and 40,000ft might not be enough of a difference, but we could theoretically extrapolate by looking at feedback from astronauts as to whether ultra-low gravity environments impact their senses... I'd be very interested to know if we've got any readers who can better explain the relationship between the change in what we sense during a flight and the environmental impact on our physiology - I've just been guessing in this post, but suspect there's some pretty interesting material here somewhere...
  • Seriously (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:47AM (#55238013) Journal

    How Flying Seriously Messes With Your Mind and Body

    In that case, instead of flying seriously, try flying frivolously.

  • by Provocateur ( 133110 ) <shedied.gmail@com> on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:53AM (#55238049) Homepage

    I was crying not because of the inflight movie, I was crying because of all the movies to choose from they *HAD* to pick Sisters of the Traveling Pants!

    I wept because it was a 20-hour flight to Manila, from Houston. And I bought a round trip ticket, which meant I was going to watch it THREE MORE TIMES!!

  • The Brat From Hell kicking the back of your airline seat.

  • Quick fix - don't fly seriously.
  • The multi-billion corporations want you to travel by air, however damaging it is — or may [earthopensource.org] be — to your health and that of the planet [nytimes.com]. Oh, you say, it is a traveler's choice? No, it is not — though it was once an option, is now a necessity [kk.org].

    Bad for you, bad for the planet, bad for mom-and-pop operated vacation spots [dailylocal.com]. Let's ban airtravel and boycott Boeing for enabling it!

  • The 787 is better, but other aircraft can be extremely noisy. Listening to that for 10 hours straight can really mess you up. Those who can afford them buy Bose noise cancellation headphones, but even cheaper Sony or Colby ones will work too at a push. Worse case, slip in some foam earplugs.

  • by PMuse ( 320639 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @10:34AM (#55238635)

    “There hasn’t been much research done on this in the past as for healthy people these do not pose much of a problem,” says . . .

    You're kidding me, right? The national air forces of the world have been sending people up for extended patrols for something like 8 or 9 decades and there "hasn’t been much research done" to study personnel performance reduction as a function of time, altitude, air pressure, oxygen, etc?

    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

      The FAA (and I presume other aviation authorities) have even implemented specific rules to govern how high you may fly and for how long before needing supplemental oxygen. One would think they had spent a few moments looking into it before just writing the rules.

  • Just a guess none of the posters live in the Mountain West.

    8000 Feet? I climb higher than that just to fly fish!

    Pretty sure no one from Denver or Colorado Springs has a problem.

  • Like why people are willing to spend stupid money on stupid products advertised in the airline magazines. Sharper Image probably wouldn't exist without the extra stupid provided by low oxygen concentrations on airplanes.

  • I take blood pressure pills to give my kidney an easier time. When I fly, I wait till I get off the plane before I take the pill.

    Because if I take it before I get off the plane, I feint. Airplane almost diverted one time.

C for yourself.

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