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Airport Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

5 Ways to Combat Low Airplane Humidity (and Stay Healthier)

The desert has nothing on the typical airplane cabin when it comes to dry air. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that humidity in airplane cabins is usually less than 20 percent. For comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that houses be kept between 30 and 50 percent humidity. Low airplane humidity is, for now, a fact of air travel—but it’s also an increasingly recognized part of jet lag, susceptibility to illness, and that general feeling of malaise that comes with flying.

Some newer planes, like Airbus A350s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners, maintain higher humidity levels, but on most flights, it’s up to you to combat low humidity. In doing so, you can stay healthier and more comfortable, and you’ll likely also rebound faster from the effects of jet lag.

Make Your Own Steam Treatment

coffee on airplane tray table

Steam is a great way to soothe dry nasal passages. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests a humidifier or vaporizer to combat dry air. The easiest way to create your own steam treatment in flight is to order a cup of hot water, tea, or coffee (according to the latest research, drinking coffee and tea is no longer thought to be dehydrating) and then inhale deeply while the steam rises from your cup. Fussy about your hot beverage of choice? Bring your own by packing tea bags or instant coffee packets.

Safety note: When handling hot beverages in flight, always use common sense. If there’s a lot of turbulence, holding a hot beverage close to your face is not a great idea.

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Moisturize

hand in small jar of lotion

Dry air is hard on skin, so it’s a good idea to toss travel-sized jars or single-use packets of your preferred face and hand moisturizers into your carry-on. Don’t forget dry lips—this is no time to forget your favorite lip balm. Moisturize whenever you start to feel dry. Other great in-flight moisturizing options include pocket-sized facial mists or ultra-moisturizing facial sheet masks, which are easy to use and don’t require rinsing.

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Stay Hydrated

hand holding water bottle on airplane

On the ground, hydration is particularly important for people who live in dry climates or at high altitudes. Since most planes are pressurized to higher altitudes, passengers are living in a simulated environment of both high and dry—a double hit on the hydration front. Sip plain water throughout the flight, or mix it up and pack a tasty electrolyte powder or water flavor enhancer.

Use Saline

person using eye drops on airplane

Both eyes and nasal passages dry out in the low humidity of the airplane cabin. Keep moisturizing eye drops (or special eye drops for contact lens wearers) on hand and use whenever your eyes start to feel dry. Using a nasal spray or nasal gel can help soothe dry nasal passages, which not only helps you feel better, but may also protect you against germs as well.

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Wear a Mask

person with face mask on airplane

Each time you exhale, you lose precious moisture. But by donning a mask, you can effectively recirculate that moisture and combat low airplane humidity. The MyAir mask was created with airline passengers in mind, and does double duty by retaining 88 percent of the moisture of each exhaled breath and, thanks to disposable filters, blocking over 99 percent of viruses, bacteria, and allergens. Unlike other masks I’ve tried, the MyAir is lightweight and comfortable enough to wear for long periods, and, since it’s not rigid, it’s easy to stow when not in use.

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Christine Sarkis uses these tips to make her flights more comfortable. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us to test free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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