The cost to your health: flying economy vs business class

Having a good night’s sleep is something we all crave. Despite being mandatory for good health, it’s not always achievable and it seems a luxury in this modern high-speed world, particularly for frequent travellers.

In all modes of travel the problem with resting is not being able to lay flat. In a modern aircraft sitting upright in a cramped aircraft seat in economy class is not the best way to enable your body to rest and recover. Any sleep acquired this way is of poor quality, and on a sleep scale, only amounts to a nap.

Plane Aisle

A lot of false information has been written in the press about aircraft passenger cabins; from poor air quality, to the humidity in recycled air and the oxygen levels available for the passengers to breathe. The aviation industry is always striving to improve cabin air quality. It’s the aircraft manufacturers, not the airlines, who go out of their way to make the inflight physiological travel experience as comfortable as possible. Even still, cabin air quality is frequently wrongly criticised as a possible cause of ill health. Cabin Air has about a 15% element of recycled air mixed into it. This helps in warming the incoming outside air making the system more cost effective and efficient. All the air goes through the aircrafts HEPA filter process.

The oxygen levels and the air pressure inside an aircraft flying at 40,000ft are the same as being 5,500 to 6,000ft up a hillside or mountain. The oxygen content is exactly the same as at ground level, only the pressure is reduced, as it is at the cabin altitude of 5-6000ft. The only main difference being the air inside the plane is a bit drier because the original humidity packs caused so much condensation they created long term insulation and corrosion problems to the aircraft. In some cases, so serious as to corrode through the actual airframe.

Being cramped in any seat anywhere on land, sea, or in the air for a long period of time is detrimental for your circulation. Whatever the class seat, everyone should get up, incorporate some yoga moves where space allows, and walk about stretching as many muscles as possible. They key is not to stay in the same position for long. This applies to all classes of travel irrespective of cost. Sleeping in a cramped position is not an optimal health solution and because of this, Business Class will always win from a resting and sleeping perspective.

If you are susceptible, cramping can potentially lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis in people with a predisposition to this condition. This has been mistakenly called 'The economy class syndrome'. The other potential serious danger apart from developing a DVT, which can occur in any traveller sitting still for long periods of time on a boat, in a car or coach or a train, is the chance of the clot travelling in the blood stream to the lungs, where it can cause a pulmonary embolism. Travelling anywhere with less space than normal, means stretching is harder to undertake without the use of the aisle. The higher class of fare you pay, the more space you have access to but it’s the exercises and stretching that give the benefit no matter where you are seated.

Business Class

All companies and organisations who send personnel on frequent long journeys should consider the benefit of a better rest cycle in Business Class, as opposed to poor performance from a fatigued person having been cramped in Economy Class. Research has been undertaken by Airbus and Recarro into the optimal flatbed seat size for the most comfort for some years. Whilst there is no Industry standard as airlines choose what seat profiles and sizes they prefer, even airlines can have different seat sets across their different fleets. Virgin Upper Class in its A330 fleet have a very narrow and some may say, uncomfortable seat, bed configuration, whereas in its other aircraft types there is a much more comfortable acceptable seat in Upper Class. Airlines are now offering better seating and sleeping conditions and have partnered with brands such as SIMBA mattresses and White Company luxury bedding as a marketing tool to increase the passenger’s rest experience.

Sleeping on flight

Economics dictate airlines will always try to allocate as many seats in Economy as possible but travellers will benefit from a better experience in a Business class seat. Corporate travel policies may not justify business class travel for all trips, but it is definitely worth considering on those key business journeys when you need to perform at your best. It protects the two resources that are irreplaceable, the travellers health and time. Both are priceless.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said that investigations were continuing, but that to date there was no evidence of any links between cabin air quality, and ill health.

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