Leg Room and Economy Class Syndrome

Airplane interiorWhen planning a trip overseas, it’s not uncommon to focus on selecting the perfect hotel, bed and breakfast, or resort with a cozy environment and sleeping area, a car or other mode of local transportation that is roomy and comfy for long drives, and comfortable shoes and clothes to wear as you sightsee. But how much thought is given to the comfort you will—or won’t—have on the flight between home and your trip destination? Your flight sets the tone for your trip and can even affect your health, which means it should be your top priority to arrange for the most comfortable flying experience possible. Doing so could even save your life.


Why Legroom Matters


“Economy Class Syndrome” may sound like an elitist description of those who consistently fly coach, but it’s actually a real medical condition that has caused death in frequent economy class flyers. According to the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University, the syndrome occurs when deep vein blood clots form after blood in a static leg muscle “sludges” or thickens. These clots can feel exactly like a regular leg cramp and often dissolve after the passenger deplanes and walks around. However, in some instances the clots reach the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, blocking the lung artery and causing shortness of breath, chest pain, cough and sometimes, death.


Legroom: The Numbers


Travelers who want to circumvent Economy Class Syndrome should do their best to avoid having static, cramped legs during their flight. Walking around the plane every hour, wearing loose clothes, and massaging legs and feet can help do just that. But also, even more importantly, travelers should book flights on planes with seats that have lots of legroom.


Seats in business and first class generally have more legroom, no matter the airline, but all airlines have variances in the minimum and maximum legroom available on their planes. According to Cheapflights.com, American Airlines and British Airways have some of the most generous seat pitches (a measurement that represents the distance between your headrest and the one in front of you). They range from 30 to 34 inches on American Airlines and 31 to 34 inches on British Airways. British Airways continues to impress with some of the widest seats—measuring between 17 inches and 19 inches.


JetBlue, however, has only two seat pitches—either 33 inches or 34 inches, making their planes consistently better in terms of legroom. One of the worst airlines for leg room, according to Cheapflights,com, is U.S. Airways with its 30 to 32 inch seat pitch range.


In terms of specific planes, SeatGuru.com reports that Air Canada’s Embraer ERJ-190s and CRJ-705s both have pitches of 34 inches while JetBlue’s Airbus 320 has a consistent 34-inch seating plan with additional 38-inch pitches at an extra charge. No matter what airline you fly, booking a seat on the aisle or beside an emergency exit will allow you some extra room that can make a big difference in minimizing pain and discomfort.


Other Comfort Measures 


Legroom isn’t the only comfort concern of passengers on national or international flights. Avoiding illness, in general, is always a good way to maintain comfort during your flight and after. Earlier this week, we wrote about avoiding contracting the flu while on board your plane, click here to review those tips.


About.com suggests that travelers moisturize before a flight, as the air onboard is dry which can cause discomfort. They also suggest bringing a neck pillow to add extra comfort and support during a long flight.


Comfortable clothes and shoes are important on a flight, but be sure to also wear layers so that you can moderate your temperature easily. Finally, when booking your flight pay attention to the potential stops and connections. Transferring between flights with little time—or too much time—and making stops can turn a simple flight into a nightmare.


Book a Flight and Insurance


After booking your flight, talk to your doctor about whether you should take an aspirin to thin your blood before you depart. Then, talk to an agent about securing travel insurance for medical needs while you are abroad. That way, if you have leg cramps after your flight or the flu-like symptoms associated with a pulmonary embolism, you can get qualified, life-saving medical treatment at a price you can afford.


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