Fliers beware: Are you at risk for deep vein thrombosis?

For those of you who have ever worried about the health risks associated with airplane travel, Compression Stockings has something for you. The company has created this detailed visual based on numerous studies explaining how travelers who are taking long flights are at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and how they can improve circulation in their legs and feet.

According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, DVT occurs when “a blood clot, or thrombus, develops in the large veins of the legs or pelvic area.” What’s scary is that while some cases of the condition are very painful, others go completely unnoticed. Furthermore, if the blood clot forms in the deeper, invisible veins it can immediately become fatal, possibly causing a pulmonary embolism.

While the above infographic is basically a cute advertisement for the company, it actually has a lot of useful information on it. You’ll be able to learn what the ailment is, how flights affect the body, risk factors, and prevention methods. There’s even a section for the fashion-conscious who are interested in using compression clothing. Even if you don’t choose to purchase compression stockings, it’s always good to understand the health risks associated with travel, and ways to keep yourself safe. If anything, this image should help push you to drink lots of water, elevate your legs, and walk around the plane at least once per hour.

For a better view of the infographic, click here.

Travel Smarter 2012: Travel tips for health and wellness

Films like “Contagion” (which I very much enjoyed, and not just because Gwyneth Paltrow bites it within the first 10 minutes) instill a paranoia in the public consciousness about the hazards of air travel. It’s true, however, that most public transportation is the equivalent of a mobile petri dish; one can’t deny the inherent germiness lurking within. Subsequently, antibacterial hand gel is my new best friend.

There are other quasi-self-inflicted, travel-related maladies: neck and back pain, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infectious disease, foodborne illness, stress–all of which kind of make you wonder why we travel in the name of relaxation, but I digress.

For many, myself included, part of the thrill of recreational travel is the element of risk involved, even if said danger involves nothing more than scarfing down a few street tacos. Regardless of why you travel, there are always new products on the market designed to make your trip more comfortable, or minimize your chances of getting sick. New research on the hazards and benefits of travel also keep us informed about what we can do to stay healthier on the road.

Below are my picks for making travel in 2012 a little less treacherous:

1. Reduce your risk of DVT
New studies show that choosing the window seat on a long flight can increase your chances of developing DVT. A theoretical DVT risk known as “economy class syndrome” (how’s that for an “f-you” to airlines?) has been debated for years, and attributed to the lack of legroom in coach.

Now, however, the American College of Chest Physicians have determined that the real issue is that window-seat fliers have limited opportunities to walk and stretch their legs during lengthy flights, which can lead to potentially fatal blood clots that may travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). There are a number of factors that contribute to one’s risk of DVT including age, preexisting health conditions, certain medications, and recent surgery, but even if you don’t fit these criteria, you should always try to get out of your seat and/or do some stretching exercises and leg movements once an hour during long flights. In other words, consider the aisle the path to clot-free veins.

2. Time-release DEET
Some people have no problem dousing themselves in insecticide, personal health and environmental side effects be damned. I used to silently sneer at those people while I sat around the campfire, my unprotected skin providing nutrients to legions of winged, blood-sucking creatures. What were a few bites (Note: it was never just a few bites; try dozens) compared to not getting cancer or maintaining the purity of the local watershed?

Then I got sick as a result of deadly bacteria-harboring sandflies, and now I’m one of those people who understand why DEET exists. I still don’t like it–it’s definitely not something I, nor the CDC, recommend using with abandon–but it’s critical for protecting yourself from mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks, and other potentially harmful insects, in conjunction with protective attire such as long socks, long-sleeved shirts, and pants (you can also purchase insect-repellent clothing). Note that I’m not taking into account malarial conditions, in which case you should be supplementing your DEET applications with a doctor-prescribed anti-malarial drug.

I was thrilled when I recently discovered controlled release DEET at my neighborhood travel store. Sawyer® Premium Controlled Release Insect Repellent is designed to “reduce the rate of DEET absorption” by 67% per application, and “extend the duration of its effectiveness.” This 20% DEET lotion is also odorless, so you don’t have to huff noticeably toxic fumes all day.

3. Hummingbird Lumbar Pillow
If you have existing back problems or an epic backpacking adventure planned, this little baby from innovative gear company Hummingbird is the bomb. Measuring 7″ x 14″, it weighs just 3.5 ounces, rolls or packs flat, and will keep your lower back happy while camping, or riding a Third World bus sans shock absorbers on a rutted highway with potholes large enough to swallow a Mini Cooper.

4. Simply Being Guided Meditation app
I’m way too ADD to meditate, but this suggestion came to me from my Gadling colleague, and fellow meditation-phobe, McLean Robbins. She loves this app, which runs through a brief series of relaxation exercises. As McLean says, “Perfect for shutting out the world on a terrible plane ride or easing into sleep in an unfamiliar hotel bed.” The app is available for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android.

5. Maqui berry
Move over, açaí, there’s a new free-radical fighter in town. Chilean maqui berry, which is FDA-approved and contains the highest ORAC (a system of measure for antioxidants) level in the world, has hit the U.S. Only a few companies manufacture it, but I recommend Isla Natura brand (Full disclosure: the company is owned by a friend of mine, which–in addition to maqui’s health benefits–is why I feel comfortable touting this product). Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) is indigenous to southern Chile and was traditionally used by the Mapuche Indians as a medicinal aid.

Isla Natura’s USDA and EU-certified organic (Fair Trade certification pending) wild fruits are harvested by hand, dried, ground, and sold in eight-ounce packets. Use one tablespoon in smoothies or on top of yogurt or oatmeal as a daily dietary supplement, but also consider it an immune booster for when you’re traveling.

Bonus: you’ll avoid the high sugar content of Emergen-C, and the “licking a dirt floor” flavor of açaí, and Isla Natura provides employment to local indigenous families at its small Chiloe processing plant. Travel-friendly capsules will be available in April; go to the company’s website for information on scientific studies. To order, click here.

[flickr image via viajar24h.com]

March is Deep-Vein Thrombosis awareness month

March 2010 is the seventh annual Deep-Vein Thrombosis awareness month.

DVT is sometimes referred to as “economy class syndrome” because the cramped airplane cabin often prevents people from getting the movement they need to prevent blood clots.

Of course, airplanes are not the only place where DVT can be a problem – even desk workers or people bedridden can be in danger.

The Coalition to Prevent DVT has put together a collection of videos that raise awareness of the dangers of DVT, and help people understand the basic steps they can take to prevent DVT.

The videos can be watched online, or downloaded for transfer to your portable media player.

The dangers of DVT are very real – the spokesperson of the Coalition to Prevent DVT lost her husband, NBC News correspondant David Bloom from complications of DVT while covering the war in Iraq.

So, do yourself a favor and devote a small part of your day to watching these videos and learning how to combat DVT. Your knowledge can also help others so forward the information to anyone you know that is regularly stuck in a cramped airplane seat.

Galley Gossip: Flight attendants force Lady Gaga to change clothes in flight

It’s an FAA violation to interfere with the duties of a crew member. So please, for the love of Gaga, when a flight attendant asks you to get undressed, get undressed! And don’t argue about it.

Recently on an eight hour flight from London to New York, Lady Gaga’s legs began to swell due to the restrictive clothing she wore on board. According to The Sun, when she began developing early signs of deep vein thrombosis, the cabin crew asked Lady Gaga to change out of her clothes – black and yellow tape – as well as a pair of blue platform shoes. Apparently LG was miffed about ditching the heels designed by an old pal, the late Alexander McQueen, which she wore in honor of him.

Am I surprised by any of this? Not at all. Crazy Gaga has been quoted saying she would rather die than have her fans not see her in a pair of high heels. Well the woman almost got her wish. Obviously Miss G does not realize just how serious DVT is, especially when wearing uncomfortable duct tape with snug platform shoes on a long haul flight!

I’ll admit it, I’m a pretty big fan of the recording artist, so I’m quite familiar with her theatrical taste in fashion. And the thought of Lady G actually donning a pair of synthetic, airline, knee-socks is just not right. But research has shown that wearing flight socks can reduce the risk of developing DVT by 90%. Don’t gag, Gaga. If anyone can make an ugly pair of compression socks look sexy at 30,000 feet it’s you!The most interesting thing about Lady Gaga’s outfit is the fact that she needed help removing it. Of course the first thing I thought when I read this was, how in the world did the crew decide who would help her undress? Did they draw straws or did they go by seniority? Because I can totally see a crew bickering over whose turn it is to spin Lady Gaga around in the first class galley in order to unwind the yellow and black tape, which I’m sure looked stunning. For an outfit made of tape.

Speaking of strange outfits in flight, flight attendants should not wear pink. EVER. Nor should they wear little weird hats on the side of their heads. At least not to work. Although something tells me Lady Gaga might disagree.

Now flight attendants are on board primarily for the safety of passengers. This includes handling what could possibly turn into a serious health concern in flight. I hope Lady Gaga realizes this and doesn’t resent the cabin crew for looking after her. Certainly she must know that flight attendants are trained to deal with these kinds of situations, that we’re professionals who take pride in our job, and that we’ll do whatever we have to do for the comfort and safety of everyone on board. It’s just…who would have thought this would one day come to include removing duct tape and designer shoes from a celebrity passenger!

Photos courtesy of BayerNYC and Alicetiara

Plane Answers: How pilots pick an airline, choose their ‘legs’ and avoid DVT.

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Julie asks:

Hi Kent, I love your blog! You have mentioned before the importance of a pilot staying with one airline throughout his career because seniority is everything. Recently, you also noted that some airlines like Air France will even pay for a pilot’s training, which sounds like a nice incentive to try to become their employee.

It seems like there are many different factors to seriously consider before joining an airline, especially since you are hoping to be with the airline for several years.

With all of these factors to think about, how did you choose which airline you wanted to work for when you were just starting out?
Thanks Julie,

It’s nice to be able to target the airline that you want to work for and land that job, but often we don’t usually have that luxury. Generally, you take the first offer you get.

I was incredibly fortunate to get noticed and successfully navigate the interview process with the airline that I most wanted to work for.

Often the airline of choice will vary and today, the freight operators like FedEx and UPS are at the top of most pilots list. Southwest and Alaska have always been favorites of applicants as well.

For me, I wanted the opportunity to fly internationally and to fly more than one type of airplane. I might not be typical of most pilots, but I actually enjoy going to school to learn a new aircraft.

Since we don’t have any large airlines in the U.S. that do the ab initio training (where they take a person and provide all the flight training, from zero time to line pilot), it’s really your flight experience and ratings, along with your work history and education, that the airlines scrutinize.

Fred asks:

I know that on long flights there are relief pilots. Who determines who flies first, who lands the aircraft and are the relief crews required to get shut eye? Also do the flight attendants have relief people?

The captain will occasionally ask the co-pilot which ‘leg’ they’d like, but more often than not, he’ll take the first leg of the trip and we’ll alternate legs after that.

Who’s leg is this?

On flights requiring a relief pilot, unless that pilot hasn’t had a landing in a few months, there are usually just two legs to share, so the relief pilot doesn’t get to fly a leg. When flying as a relief pilot all month, it’s possible to trade for a co-pilot trip every now and then to maintain the requirement for three landings in 90 days.

With regards to the breaks, it’s usually the relief pilot who goes back for the first break. The flying pilot will take the second break so they’re prepared and not rushed to prepare for the approach. The non-flying pilot will then take the last leg, arriving back in the cockpit at least thirty minutes prior.

We’re not required to get some sleep, but the option to sleep if we’re tired is at least provided. Occasionally, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’ll do a little blogging or in the past–before writing for Gadling–I’d catch a movie.

That’s why the FB and the FC, the second relief pilot used on the flights over 12 hours, are known as the “Food Boy” and the “Film Critic.”

The flight attendants don’t have relief crews per se, but after the meal service is complete, and before the second service, they’ll divide up their breaks which may be as little as thirty minutes for a 7 hour flight.

Hey Kent, Regarding DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, is it a concern for pilots? Do you guys have much room to move around up front? Are there measures you take to avoid DVT? Do you really need to?



Hi Ben,

After this became such a public issue, we did give some thought to the ramifications to sitting in an airplane for so many hours at a time.

Most pilots try to drink enough water during the flight, and we occasionally stand up in the cockpit for a moment at cruise and stretch. All of our airplanes have enough room for us to at least stand up.

After September 11th, it’s become a bit of a hassle to use the lavatory, so we try not to overdo it on the water.

Since we have three pilots on the flights scheduled to be 8 hours or more, we’re lucky to get a two hour break in the cabin, which probably helps curb the DVT potential. It’s the transcons that have the potential for pilots to sit for extended periods at a time.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers