I Used to Get Sick When I Flew

Now I don’t. I worked on this problem for a long time, but people frequently ask me how I conquered air travel. All I can tell you is what seems to work for me, with the added disclaimer that I am not a doctor, and none of this is to be construed as advice, medical, health, or otherwise.

My father, as I’ve mentioned more than once, was an air force pilot. So I grew up around planes—big ones and little ones. A flight suit was standard issue in our house, and we went to flight shows whenever they occurred. I’m sure I was the first little girl on my block to set foot in a B-52 (among many others). Daddy was big into radio-controlled model airplanes, too, and built them from scratch. So we learned all about the physics of flying. We took family vacations in small aircraft, with my dad at the wheel and me riding shotgun. I’ve always been at ease with flying.

But Daddy was also a chain smoker—he started smoking at age eight—in the era when they had no idea what cigarettes did to a body. Nor did they know what secondhand smoke did to the body’s loved ones. My sister and I have both had numerous respiratory issues in our lives, and we’re pretty sure they stem from all those cigarettes we inhaled without ever smoking a one. When I catch a cold, it immediately settles down in my lungs.

And when I fly, I’m exposed to a boatload of OPG … which is to say, Other People’s Germs. I’d never been a germophobe, but between 2006 and 2012 I took eighteen round-trip flights and ended up sick—bad sick—after every one of ’em. The first one—to Ireland in February 2006—landed me in a walk-in clinic with a miserable case of bronchitis and a course of antibiotics. As time went on, the bronchitis got more severe, the treatment more strenuous, the recovery period longer. My last three trips ended in pneumonia, and I don’t mind saying it scared me.

I even tried wearing a surgical face mask on one trip, but the fact is these masks are intended to keep germs in, not out. They are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or viruses (respirators are, but just try wearing one of those on a plane), they are designed to keep the wearer’s germs from spreading outward. In other words, folks who are sick should wear masks.

Fact is, folks who are sick—even with “just” a cold—shouldn’t fly. They should wait until they’re better. (Or wear a face mask!) However, there’s a financial penalty for that—the airlines don’t like us changing flights at the last minute, for one thing (and I don’t blame them). We might also lose deposits on hotel rooms and other vacation activities.

So until the airlines start filtering the air inside the plane (an expensive proposition) rather than just recycling it, we passengers take our chances, and mine had proven to be not so good. What’s a girl to do?

I’ll tell you: research. As you know, I’ve been slowly evolving to a holistic, naturopathic lifestyle. I’ve written about the three health events that changed my life (and the follow-up). Even prior to that, I’d grown away from pharmaceutical solutions. For example—and at the risk of TMI—though I had easy access to birth control pills in my late teens (the early 1970s), I quit taking them after a couple years, when I began to actually read the fine print on the box and came to the conclusion all by myself that the pills would not be good for my health. I switched to the diaphram, which I used for the rest of my child-bearing years. Not as easy, maybe, but not polluting my body, either.

I knew I’d been blessed with reasonably good health, so why chance it? Unlike many children born in the 1950s, we kids were not bottle-fed. (Family legend has it that I asked one of our neighbors what a baby bottle was when I saw them on the drainboard in their house—I was about six or seven years old—because I’d never seen such things in my own house.) That alone gave us a head start that many kids of our generation didn’t have, as the 1950s and ’60s were a time when “the predominant attitude to breastfeeding was that it was something practiced by the uneducated and those of lower classes,” according to Wikipedia. Also during this time, there was a surge in modern conveniences and processed food, and a lot of kids got a lot of meals out of cans, but our mother, who’d grown up with a huge vegetable garden in the backyard, cooked with a lot of fresh foods. We had to beg to be given SpaghettiOs. 🙂 (Later she got sick, and was sick for the next 24 years, and convenience products crept into the house; but as the oldest, I got a very good beginning.)

So I’ve always been cautious with pharmaceuticals. I am apparently one of the few Americans of my generation who takes no maintenance drugs. I’m very fortunate.

But I had this pesky cold-bronchitis-pneumonia problem, and it sounded to me like I needed to work on my immune system. But there is no magic pill for that either. 🙂 The best I could come up with is this: a good immune system starts in the gut—healthy eating, healthy digestion.

And about the same time, I was exposed to essential oils. I started researching the use of essential oils in building the immune system as a step toward personal health. (I’d tried herbal concoctions already, but they hadn’t done the trick.) Over time, I developed a little regimen of oils (I put them in a capsule for convenience) that I take in the run-up to a trip: lemon, frankincense, lemongrass, oregano, and Thieves, a blend of 5 oils. By 2013, I had it dialed in, and I haven’t gotten “airplane sick” since then. (Again, this is my personal story. I make no claims to efficacy; your experience may differ. I am not a doctor or health-care advisor, nor am I in the business of selling essential oils; I purchase and use them only for my own benefit.)

When I have a trip coming, I make up enough capsules to take one per day for 30 days prior to the trip, and one per day for the duration of the trip. I only take them for this period; I do not take them day in and day out.

Although I don’t believe in using germicides in daily life, I take packets of them with me when I travel. When I get on the plane, I wipe down the seatbelt, the armrests, and the tray table. I carry a bottle of Thieves with me, and every two or three hours I rub a few drops over my fingers and hands and around my nostrils. (Here’s a little article about the Thieves blend’s ability to kill household germs.)

I use Thieves this way during the cold and flu season too: as I approach the grocery store, where I’ll be touching a cart that others have touched, I rub Thieves over my hands and nostrils.

It’s worked well for me. And, yes, I have started my regimen, because I fly in one week. Can’t wait. 🙂

Ready to fly!

Ready to fly!

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