Remember that time you got off the plane and felt refreshed and amazing? No? Oh right, because that never happens. Despite romanticized images of Pan Am flight attendants, diplomatic red carpets, and general jet-set sexiness, the reality of flying is far less glamorous. In fact, it makes you look and feel downright disgusting.
To find out why you look and feel like crap after flying, we asked a doctor about the nature of a number of airplane maladies and what preventative measures you can take to be less of a hot mess.*
*Doctor’s note: Dr. Saunders explains these issues aren’t studied all that well. Researchers apparently have more important things to do/spend funding on (cancer? Ebola?) than why you look like a 3/10 after a flight. Therefore, the evidence base is notably meager, meaning explanations are speculative. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but it’s mostly hypothetical.
Why does flying make me need to fart?
Might as well start off with farts. Don’t even lie and say this doesn’t happen to you -- what are you, some fartless wonder-flier?
“A few things are likely at fault,” explains Dr. Saunders. “First, we tend to change our diets when we travel, buying several bags of peanut M&Ms, Panda Express, McDonald’s, or whatever your travel treat of choice may be. As they say in Gastroenterology (and Calculus), ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’” Dr. Saunders also adds that sitting for hours on end, perhaps being too polite to wake up your neighbor, adds to the problem. “This slows down digestion and our metabolic rate.” And certainly ups the toots.
The solution is simple: Don’t eat that stuff. Sure, you want to treat yo’self on vacation, but you'll have plenty of time for indulging at your destination. Even though airport Sbarros is the best Sbarro.
“Get healthier stuff such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, raisins, etc. These are high in fiber, and a very good thing when it comes to constipation,” says Saunders. Boring.
“Drink water! Also, get up and move around in the cabin. We say that ‘Moving your body moves your bowels.’ This will stimulate digestion a bit and relieve or prevent some of the bloating and constipation.”
Why do I get zits and dry skin after flying?
Humidity wreaks havoc on your coif, but turns out... humidity also gives you your rosy-cheeked, peaches-and cream-complexion. But on an airplane? Humidity in the cabin is less than 20 percent, almost half what's normal. Saunders says natural air is normally at 30 to 40% humidity, and when you inhale the dry air, it withdraws moisture from your nose, throat, mouth and lungs, leaving your insides drier than a Steven Wright set.
The solution? “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” Saunders says. This also will help with constipation. You should probably just put down your Bloody Mary and switch to H2O, because it’s making you a pimply, gaseous sack of nasty.
Why do I feel like the Michelin Man?
Well, aside from the fact that maybe you don't know how to shop for pants... remember that advice about drinking water? Now it’s stuck in you, and you literally slosh when you move. #sorrynotsorry. Yes, staying hydrated is important, but don’t overdo it.
“It may seem strange that both too much fluid and too little fluid can be problems in flying, but every traveler is different. Some just HAVE to say 'yes' to every flight attendant that offers them a beverage, and then also buy three dozen bottles of Aquafina for LGA to ATL,” Saunders says.
So basically drink a ton of water, but draw the line at sh*t-ton.
Why do my legs look like the Michelin Man's?
It's all about that lack of venous return. Duh. “Lack of venous return means blood does not return to your heart from your peripheral circulation at the same rate that it normally does,” Saunders explains. "This is caused by sitting. The circulation in your lower extremities is dramatically reduced, leading to stagnation of blood in the veins of your lower legs and feet.” Another factor? That's right. You guessed it... dehydration.
The solution: just take a wild guess. It starts with "wa" and ends in "t are you still guessing for?"
Doctor’s Note: “This is probably the worst complication of flying because it can result in DVT, which is essentially a blood clot that forms in your legs. This can shoot up into your lungs and be deadly. Individuals with circulation problems are at the greatest risk, including cancer patients and pregnant women."
Jeez, Doc. #buzzkill
Why do my ears hurt like the Michelin Man's?
This actually doesn't make sense. It should just be, "Why do my ears hurt?" but they call this joke a conceit.
Aside from the pain in your ass that is other humans, ear pain is most common on the plane's descent and a cold or congestion will exacerbate the situation. “This is caused by increase in cabin air pressure [ed note: duh]. If your Eustaichain tubes, which connect the back of your throat with your middle ear, are blocked, the increased pressure pushes up against your ear drum.”
To battle this, the doctor recommends staying awake when you descend, as pressure doesn’t equalize as well when you’re sleeping. And if you have a cold, see a doctor before you travel, to get a prescription for decongestants. Or at the very least, try to get some Valium -- because nothing says "I just don't want to feel anything," like popping Valium before you get to 36,000ft (our words, not the doctor's).
Meagan Drillinger is a freelance writer for Thrillist. DM her for Dr. Saunders’ private home information so you can ask him to write you alllllllll the decongestion scripts. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @drillinjourneys.