Air Sickness

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 for suggestions.

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.


Angela on April 23rd 2013:
Thank you for the tips on flying. Will really drink more water next time. Could you please advise what I can do about my legs being restless? I try to sleep but my legs jump all the time.

Lucy @ replies:

Dear Angela, I'm no expert on this, but here are a few notes and ideas:

Keeping well hydrated will certainly help. Also consider taking some sort of electrolyte balancing sports drink before or during the flight. Avoid caffeine both for a few hours before you fly and during the flight.

Once on the plane, get up and walk around as much as you can (remember to ask for an aisle seat).

Research some in-seat exercises that you can do during your flight. Many airlines now have a card in the seat pocket that outlines some simple movements such as rotating your ankles.

Also try stretching and flexing your toes and massaging your calves and feet.

Use the foot rest if there is one. If you are lucky enough to have an empty seat beside you then try to sit with your legs elevated.

Remove your shoes feet tend to swell and tight-fitting shoes may contribute to restless legs. Keep your feet warm. Some airlines still give out fluffy socks, but taking your own won't take up much space in your hand luggage.

There are also a variety of creams and gels on the market for aching and restless legs (often used in pregnancy) which might be worth a try.

Good luck!
Crystal on January 31, 2015:
Hello! My family is going to Maui and would like to view the island from the air. My son often has motion sickness on airplanes and curvy car rides. I'm trying to decided if a helicopter or sailplane tour would be better. Any thoughts?

Thank you!!
keri on February 8, 2015:
I have had motion sickness my entire life and used to take Dramamine for it. Over the years my sickness has gotten worse and the Dramamine no longer works. A boat ride or helicopter would be equally miserable for someone like me I found through talking with my doctor that they make Scopolamine patches that help extreme motionsickness. Now I can fly or do anything I want when it is on. I don't know if kids can use them but it's worth checking it out at your pediatrician.
Anonymous on June 15, 2015:
I get airsick too sometimes.
Me on August 18, 2015:
I get really scared on planes and I am going on one tomorrow. Where shall I sit???
Michelle on September 21, 2015:
I used to love flying and I never got airsickness when I was younger. The past three years, ever since I've gotten married, I got air sickness going on my honeymoon and today two days before our three year anniversary. What's worse is we had a connecting flight (Pittsburgh, PA to Denver, CO and then Denver to Los Angeles, CA). The first flight was smooth but the second wasn't. I'm glad I read this article because I think I know my mistake. My husband and I were on a smaller flight and we were at the rear of the plane. I've had severe motion sickness ever since I was really young, dreading car rides even to the store. I really hate being that way! I love to fly but sometimes I can't win!
Dipika on December 13, 2015:
It's very good tips. Thanks. I have very bad motion sickness in air. I am tying band on wrist and ear bud and it is helping. I usually eat a good amount and then don't eat anything in plane and its working. If I eat anything in plane then I vomit. But this works if the flight is 4 to 5 hours.
I travel to India and that is big disaster for me. Its several flights, almost 24 hours of training time and I don't eat or drink anything for those traveling time. And after 5 to 6 hours, I am a mess. My mouth is dry, even any smell anything make me throw up.
I have tried motion sickness medicine over the counter and prescription, everything make it worst.
I will go to India in two days and now all of this I am thinking. Please advise me. I want to come out from this somehow.
Thanks, Dipika
Sian on January 23, 2016:
In 2014 on a flight to Thailand, I didn't eat a single thing the entire flight (because I can't stand airline food) so I was really hungry towards the end of the flight, which resulted in me throwing up about 1 hour before landing, and throwing up again before our connecting flight had even taken off.
In December last year, I went on a holiday and we were on about 8 planes in total, the first 7, I tried to eat the airline food, (which wasn't that bad this time) and I was fine the entire flight, I didn't even feel the tiniest bit of sickness. But the last flight back home, we flew a different airline, and the food was absolutely awful. I didn't eat anything and I thought I'd be okay because I had been fine the last few flights, but I felt sick the last few hours, and I threw up after the plane landed, when everyone got up to get their carry-on.
But the 2 times I've been airsick I didn't throw up food, it was just this liquid which I think was stomach acid. Any thoughts as to why not eating much could cause this? And what it was that I threw up seeing it wasn't food?
anon on January 28, 2016:
My girlfriend suffers badly from motion sickness. The worst episode was after a transatlantic flight.

One of the stewardesses noticed she looked unwell and asked if everything was OK. We explained that she was feeling dizzy due to air sickness. We waited for the other passengers to get off the plane before we went to get off ourselves. The stewardess took our hand luggage as I supported my girlfriend as she gingerly made her way off the plane.

As we made it through the plane door my girlfriend said she felt like she was going to pass out at any moment. The stewardess said to follow her as there was a medical room down the corridor. I picked up my girlfriend in my arms and proceeded to carry her to the medical room. About halfway there she went totally limp in my arms. She had fainted and was completely knocked out cold. I continued to carry her to the medical room and laid her on the bed in there.

She remained unconscious for a good while before finally coming too. The experience has put her off flying altogether.
cede on February 13, 2016:
So dead-on!! For the longest time, I thought this was just all in my head because no one that I tell about how I feel, which I now know a name for, seemed to understand what I was going through. I travel quite often to the UK from the US and some flights are worse than others. Where one's seat is being a contributing factor makes absolute sense looking back now. As stated, the food smell makes me even sicker and bringing in my own food hasn't helped. I have a few times been on the verge of completely passing out - partly from the motion sickness and also flying for sometimes 8 hours with an empty stomach because I can't stand the smell of any food. I will try some of these tips on my next flight, which is in a few days.
Anon on June 5, 2016:
Hi can anyone help me? I flew interstate on a school trip last year and the whole way there I was completely fine. While I was there I got very sick with a throat and sinus infection and was close to getting pneumonia. On the way back I felt absolutely horrible and my ears almost burst while landing. From this experience I think I might have stressed myself out about flying. On a recent trip to Singapore I threw up on the plane. This also made me really panic on the way back that I was air sick. I had to close my eyes for the whole plane ride back because I was scared I was going to puke. Although going to the school trip last year was fine I'm now scared I've psyched myself about flying. These trips have only been up to 5 hours long but now I'm going to Europe and it will be a whole day in transit. I'm really scared that I'm going to be sick. I don't know if I'm actually sick or if it's psychological.
Jay on July 9, 2016:
Once I was flying from Vancouver to Toronto, and this was a relatively small aircraft. Once the plane took off, I started feeling nauseous and dizzy. And the flight was 6 hours long!! I believe that if you are prone to being airsick, then try not to get connecting flights and aim for a direct flight as larger planes are more stable.
Ike on July 30, 2016:
I went through pilot training and tried everything except the meds. Ginger worked, but I like Altoids or peppermint (red and white kind) better. They can help calm the stomach, but does not prevent airsickness. I liked these much better than Ginger method. The Puma method works, but it takes diligence and you have to stay with it... there is a more aggressive method the air force uses that works wonders but sucks to do and you actually induce vomiting (imagine getting in the center of a merry-go-round and spinning until you throw up 3 times or until you can spin for 10 minutes 3 times without getting sick (it took a couple of weeks for me). I stopped using this method and it came back after a couple of weeks... did it again and it worked. But once again, when I stopped it came back. I can tell you once you have several bad experiences it does become mental.
john on August 14, 2016:
I am basically afraid of flying, though I have flown from the UK to NZ on 7 occasions. I have not flown since 1988 and it's now 2016. I am going home for a holiday and will be on a 16 hour flight to Dubai, then on to London about 10 more hours. I find that sucking on cough sweets helps my ears and stimulates saliva glands to keep my mouth sufficiently moist. I eat sparingly even when not flying and feel that non spicy simple foods are the best. Water is the best drink and copious amounts are best taken the day prior and on the flight, as flying does dehydrate one. Sleep if I can and don't look through the window much though being an avid photographer I am tempted to take shots of the land below. I wish all you travel sick and travel fearful people the best and hope we all have trouble free flights and enjoy our holidays to the maximum.
Niah on September 15, 2016:
I have motion sickness in a car. Haven't thrown up in years but I think that's also because I learned how to control it. I still feel sick but it doesn't get to that point. I will get on a plane for the first time in a few days. I heard that most people that get sick on a car will get sick on a plane too. Any idea if that is the case, or could it be that I will feel fine in the air?
Subu on September 21, 2016:
I enjoyed your advice. In the last few years that I travelled, I suffer serious reaction when on the plane with most airsickness symptoms and worse. I always faint on my way to the ladies, luckily, the stewardess always help. Please advise me more on how to prevent this fainting, it scares me a lot. Looking forward to hear from you.
NB: I've used a lot of anti-sickness medicine with no luck. Thank you.
Jan on January 23, 2017:
Hello, I would like to ask for some advice about the experience I am having when travelling by plane. Even just on the airport waiting for my flight, I've started to throw-up. Then my flight's duration is about 10 hours. The whole flight I kept on vomiting to the extreme. (Every 10min of the 10 hour journey.... just imagine...) from yellow to dark to black to blood (excuse me for describing)... the flight crew are monitoring my vitals and the captain almost decide to have an emergency landing due to my case. I just told them to continue the flight and do my best to hang on since am considering all passengers' time. So upon arrival of the plane at the airport, a medical staff is waiting for me and ambulance is ready to pick me up in the runway. They directed me to the nearest hospital and given IV since I am so dehydrated. BTW, this happens to me every time I travel to my home country. I have taken almost all motion sickness medicines, sedatives, good diet before the flight, but nothing succeeds. Hopefully someone can help me.
Ozzie on June 27, 2017:
I'm not sure if mine is air sickness, I usually get like after-flight sickness where usually I'll feel fine on the plane but then the day after landing or even for the next week off and on I'll feel like I'm still on the plane, (you know how your body feels when there's turbulence and you sorta drop a little) and then then that makes my stomach turn and I usually end up throwing up. Anyone know about this or anything to combat it/why it happens?
Moota on August 11, 2017:
Thanks for the help!:)
Me on October 28, 2017:
I am going on a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne in a couple days and I am terrified. Have not been on a plane since about 5 years ago and since then I have become motion sick. My motion sickness was intense and I also have emetophobia (fear of being sick) and this makes me have panic attacks. I am so so, so scared and just needed to tell someone. Thank you for your advice. Good luck to you all.
Easton Memmott on July 30, 2018:
I was surprised to learn that by drinking more fluids on your flight, you can fight air sickness. For my new job, I will have to fly frequently so I was wondering how to avoid flight sickness. I will be sure to drink as much water as I can on the flights so I can avoid feeling sick.
Thomas Clarence on May 4, 2020:
My brother is thinking of going on a helicopter tour this summer, but he is known for getting sick anytime he goes up into the air. You made a helpful point when you talked about how it is a good idea to be well-hydrated before going up in the air. I'll be sure to mention to my brother that he should drink a lot of water before he goes.
on January 20, 2024:
I am going I feel like vomiting when the plane is taking off my parents say it's from gravity since gravity when a ball is up it falls down the airplane puts pressure to fly but gravity tries to pull you down right?

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