Air sickness, also called flight sickness, can be a particularly distressing form of motion sickness simply because once you're up in the air, there's no way out!
Unless you're lucky enough to be traveling first or business class, you're also likely to be very cramped for space. What's more, during take off, landing and any periods of turbulence you won't even have access to the restroom.
Hence the air sickness bags that every airline still helpfully provides in your seat pocket...
It's not all bad news though. Fortunately, smoking - a major air sickness trigger - is no longer permitted on most flights, and there are plenty of things that you can do to minimize your discomfort and survive your flight.
Preparing for your flight
First of all, make sure that you are well hydrated before the flight. It is a good idea to up the amount of water you are drinking for 24-48 hours before your trip. Make sure to pack a water bottle or flask in your hand luggage (see below). Wear loose comfortable clothes. Anything constricting, especially around the throat or waist, is sure to make you feel worse.
Taking a water bottle on board a plane
Contrary to what some people believe, there is no ban on taking liquids onto planes. The ban is on taking liquids from landside to airside. Therefore it is quite possible to travel with a bottle or flask in your carry-on luggage - current regulations simply require it to be empty when you pass through security. You can fill it right up again as soon as you are airside. Most airports provide free water fountains. Alternatively you may be able to purchase a bottle of water in the boarding area. Once you are through security there are no restrictions on obtaining liquids airside and carrying them onto the plane.
Although you may be planning to sleep on the flight, it is wise to be well rested before the trip. Tiredness, stress and anxiety all play big roles in triggering air sickness. If you suffer from fear of flying, take some time to look through flight safety statistics
and read the book Flying in the Comfort Zone: Therapeutic Learning for Fearful Fliers
. It is also worth attending a class for those who have a fear of flying. Check with airlines or your nearest airport to see what's available in your area. Friends who have taken these classes say they are well worth the money. It is certainly true that the more confident and relaxed you are, the less likely you are to get sick.
When you check in for your flight, explain that you are prone to air sickness and ask for a seat towards the front edge of the wing - the most stable part of the plane. Most check-in staff will be sympathetic and do their best to help. If they are not able to assign you a seat in this area, it's worth explaining the situation to a steward/ess when you board. They may be able to persuade someone to switch seats with you. After all, it's in everyone's interests that you aren't ill! Bulkhead seats are also a good choice as they have much more space and leg room in which to relax.
The rear of the plane has the bumpiest ride and is by far the worst area for those with a tendency to air sickness. Unfortunately, if you are traveling with small children, this is often exactly where you'll be seated. Again, inform check-in staff that you have a tendency to air sickness and request a seat further forward.
On board your flight
Once on board, the single most important thing is to stay well hydrated. Take regular sips of water and make use of the drinks service for juice, carbonated drinks, such as ginger ale, or tonic water (not alcohol, tea or coffee). Personally, I always order tomato juice on planes, and no - I don't mix it with vodka! I rarely drink it in other situations, but in the air there's something soothing and restorative about it that makes it my first choice!
The drinks trolley is also a useful source of fresh lemons - see Preventing Motion Sickness: Basic "Dos and Don'ts"
It is important to stay warm. Planes often have that peculiar combination of being cool and stuffy, so make use of your blanket (be sure to ask for one if it hasn't been provided - all airlines carry them) to at least cover your legs.
Ventilation is also really important. The air on planes can be awful, but most seats will at least have a small ventilation nozzle above them. Turn it to direct the air flow towards your face. Be careful though, as falling asleep with the air directed at your neck may result in cramp, so be sure to pull your blanket high, or wear something around your neck.
The air on planes is very drying - a good light moisturizer will help a lot with preventing that unpleasant 'pinched' feeling.
Use the footrest (if available), settle back in your seat with your head against the headrest and r-e-l-a-x. Recline your seat when permitted and look either at a fixed point within the cabin, or - if you have a window seat - at the sky with your head tilted lightly back. Craning your neck to look down at the ground is not a good idea.
Eating on board
While few people really enjoy airline meals, they can be a source of absolute torment for those prone to air sickness! It's not so much the food itself (which of course can be refused, or simply left on the tray), but the smell. And with several hundred meals being served pretty much at the same time, the smell can be pretty overwhelming for anyone not feeling at their best. For me, it's the breakfast served at the end of a night flight that always gets me. I also have trouble with the strong scent of those 'refreshing' hot towels that some airlines insist on distributing before landing.
Short of sticking a clothes peg on your nose, there's a limited amount you can do to avoid this. However, a little essential oil (see Preventing Motion Sickness with Natural, Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies
for suggestions) on a handkerchief or tissue can help.
It's also worth bringing your own food on board, in case you can't face anything that the airline serves. See Preventing Motion Sickness: Basic "Dos and Don'ts"
, section Eat lightly and keep something in your stomach
If the worst happens...
If the worst happens and you, or someone in your care, is physically sick, the good news is that (rather surprisingly!) I have always found airline stewards and stewardesses to be sympathetic and extremely helpful. Maybe I've been lucky, but I've found this to be the case even on low cost / budget airlines, where I've been assisted swiftly and discreetly, without any impatience or disgust. Paper towels are provided for cleaning up and rubbish sacks are usually on hand to store soiled items and clothing. Although airline seat pads look fixed, I discovered - when my baby son threw up all over my seat - that they can be quickly removed and exchanged, and that extra seat pads are always carried on board.