Comfort During Airline Travel


Airline passengers are all too familiar with the uncomfortable seating on airplanes. This article includes useful suggestions for packing, lifting and carrying your suitcase, as well as in flight and post flight tips to help ease neck, back and extremity discomfort. Hopefully these ideas will make your air travel as comfortable as possible.


Lifting and Carrying Suitcases


Airlines have new rules for baggage fees. This has caused air travelers to attempt to pack everything possible into one suitcase. Suitcases can weigh from up to 50 to 70 lbs. (22.25 to 31.75 kg) without incurring extra baggage fees. Lifting and carrying the bag(s) is a potential opportunity for injury to the back or neck. Lifting bags in your home, putting them into and getting them out of the trunk or back of your car, and lifting them again onto the ticket agents’ scale are potential injury events. Some recommendations you can do to minimize injury from lifting are:
  • When carrying more than one suitcase balance the weight of each suitcase on each side of your body. This balance will minimize unequal strain on the neck, shoulders and back. Even with roller wheels there are times you will still have to lift and carry.

  • Always lift with the “Nose and Toes” posture. Anytime you’re lifting the suitcase, your nose and toes should be facing in the same direction. Twisting and lifting posture decreases balance, efficiency and strength of the spine. Twisting and lifting with a heavy suitcase can initiate the potential for an injury to the muscles, ligaments and discs of the spine.

  • Get help lifting your suitcases whenever possible.


Boarding and Carry-on Bags


Injury to the upper and lower back can occur when lifting roller bags into overhead bins. Aisles are small and other travelers around you are also trying to store their bags. Bending over quickly and twisting to put the bag into the bin can be an awkward maneuver. This activity is a potential for back injury. What can be done to reduce a potential neck or back injury?
  • Minimize the weight of the carry-on bag.

  • Ask someone to help you lift a heavy roller bag into as well as out of the overhead bin.


Comfort in Your Seat


Unfortunately, airline seats are not adjustable for size and height. Since the seats are not designed for every body type, they cannot be adjusted to fit your frame. Fortunately, work is being done to make the airline seats more comfortable in the future. Some activities you can do to add comfort for the present are:
  • Cervical support – Inflatable or contoured neck support is recommended for travel if you sleep on flights. Falling asleep with your neck in an awkward position is a potential for “travelers neck” or neck pain and stiffness. This results in difficulty turning your neck from side to side after a flight.

  • Lower back support – Using a small lower back pillow filling the space or curve of the lower back offers comfort and relaxation for the lower back muscles. Ask the flight attendant if there are pillows available. Your jacket can be substituted in the absence of a blanket or pillow.

  • Space for feet – Try to make as much space as possible for your feet and legs so they can be stretched out beneath the seat ahead of you.


During the Flight


The length of the flight will determine the actions you can choose to make your trip more comfortable and minimize pain and discomfort. On flights of an hour or slightly longer, just get as comfortable as possible in the seat. However, on flights of two hours or longer, the following suggestions may help to make you more comfortable during and after the trip.
  • Keep your body hydrated. Water is best. Alcohol and caffeine contribute to dehydration. Because the air is very dry there is a potential for dehydration if not enough water is consumed. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include: a sense of weakness, dizziness, dry mouth, dry eyes and thirst.

  • Instructions while seated include exercising your feet and ankles by rotating the ankles and flexing and extending the feet. Shrug and rotate your shoulders, rotate and stretch the neck and open and close your hands along with rotating the wrists.

  • Get up from your seat and walk back and forth every hour during the flight to aid in circulation. Long periods of sitting on the flight have been known to contribute to blood clots in the legs.


After the Flight


This is a reversal of preparing for the flight starting with getting your suitcase off the baggage carousel. Stiffness in the neck and back after a long flight is common. Basic neck, trunk and lower back stretches while waiting for your bag(s) is suggested for you to do to loosen up the muscles. Recommendations remain the same for lifting and placing suitcases into the back of the rental car or into the airport shuttle. If you strain your neck or back during travel, application of ice as quickly as possible after the incident is a good first aid remedy.


Taking the time to prepare for your comfort during airline travel will make your trip more enjoyable if you arrive without pain and discomfort.


The doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office have experience caring for neck and back injuries. Call for an appointment at (763)-755-4300.


The International Academy of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine