What Really Happens To Your Body On An Airplane

Flying up into the blue sky is one of the coolest things about the modern world. But, despite how awesome air travel is, our bodies just weren't designed for it. In fact, flying on airplanes does a number on our bodies, in shocking and unusual ways.

You lose your sense of taste

Airplane food is bland and inferior, or so our taste buds believe. While the airline companies might be nefarious in other ways, the food they feed us isn't purposefully bland. Our bodies mess up tasting the airline food — if we ate it on the ground, it would taste perfectly fine.

The conditions in modern airplanes make it so that our sense of taste and smell get destroyed. Airplanes are pressurized so we don't need oxygen masks when flying, but the cabin pressure is still less than the pressure on the ground. Add to that how airline cabins are drier than a Steven Wright routine, and our taste buds just can't operate like they do on the ground.

But the real culprit behind bland airline food is our nose. 80% of the sensation we call "taste" comes from smell. Our noses just aren't designed to work in dry, low-pressure environments, so they don't pick up smell like they do on the ground. That wrecks any hope of properly tasting airline food. Studies also show the noise of the cabin can also interfere with properly tasting foods, specifically the flavor of "umani," which gives meat and other dishes their savory quality. So the next time airline teriyaki chicken tastes like garbage, don't blame the flight attendants. Blame the airplane itself.

Blood pools at our feet

Anybody who has removed their shoes during a flight knows the pain of trying to get them back on afterwards. When we fly, our feet swell up and get super-puffy. This happens because the blood from the rest of our body slowly starts to collect down at the bottom of our feet during the flight. But the pool of blood doesn't form due to any issues of high-altitude flight. It literally just happens because the mean ol' airliners won't give us leg room!

Pooling blood mainly occurs when our bodies are stuck in cramped positions for a long time. Without leg room, we are forced into a position that causes our blood to pool. There are a few ways to prevent it, including wearing loose-fitting clothing, and standing up periodically during the flight. Leggings and skinny jeans just aren't good for a jaunt into the clouds, no matter how nice they make your butt look.

The circulation issue is a big deal for certain groups of people. Airline travel can create blood clots in older people, people taking birth control and anybody who has recently had a surgery. Clots are serious business, so be careful while flying. Deep vein thrombosis is the worst souvenir to bring back from a trip.

Airplanes dehydrate us

Ever wonder how the air conditioning in the cabin works? They can't just pump in air from the outside, so airplanes pull air in from the engine. Airplane turbofans are giant air intakes, so they pull in a lot of air. Most of it goes into combustion, which provides the thrust for the engines. But some of it is bled off from the compressor (the front part of the engine), cooled down, and pumped back into the cabin.

Water molecules tend to settle down near the surface of the planet, making high-altitude air super dry. Cabin AC ends up having less humidity than the driest deserts, and it is blowing right into our faces. Airplanes, in short, are basically flying Saharas, and that creates a huge problem with dehydration. The cabin sucks the moisture out of you, leaving passengers struggling for any sort of refreshment.

The problem isn't just the inconvenience of feeling thirsty. Being dehydrated puts us at increased risk of colds and other respiratory illness, and can even be fatal to people with severe asthma. So make sure to bring some sort of extra water on a flight and a strong moisturizer for skin care, even if they cost $15 each at the airport kiosk.

You are at increased risk of E.Coli and bacterial infection from the water

Traveling with other people is always nerve-racking. Who knows what sort of disease our fellow travelers are carrying, and whether we will get it. Germophobes beware, because an airplane is actually one of the best incubators for E.Coli, MRSA and other bacterial infections.

A 2014 study discovered that E.Coli and MRSA survive a long time on an airplane. MRSA survived up to 168 hours on an exposed seat, and E.Coli survived 96 hours on an armrest. This is a huge problem, since airplanes are constantly filling up with different groups of passengers. If one person with MRSA touches an armrest, for the next week, anybody who sits in that seat will be exposed as well, and can get sick. That's a ton of passengers, in case you weren't aware of how busy airplanes get/

Even the water we drink on airplanes is contaminated with nasty bugs. In 2015 a research group found that airline water serves as an incubator for 37 different species of potentially harmful bacteria, with long haul flights being the most likely to have harmful bacteria in the water. Airplanes are a petri dish of potential bacterial infection. So now we know: never drink airplane water.

Time moves for you slightly slower due to relativity effects

Flying is pretty awesome for a lot of reasons, but one of the most amazing features of airline flight is that it technically allows us to time travel. Don't get too excited — airplanes aren't going to turn us all into Marty McFly. But we do time travel. Just a little.

Einstein discovered that, when an object starts moving, there is a corresponding decrease in the rate of the passage of time. If a spaceship was traveling close to the speed of light, time would pass super-slowly for that astronaut, even though to the rest of the universe, time is passing at the same rate. When the astronaut reaches his destination, he will have aged much less than the rest of the universe has. Essentially, he traveled into the future.

What is crazy about relativity is that it always works, even at low velocities. Over the course of a six-hour airplane flight, the travelers move fast enough that the rest of the world ages one-millionth of a second faster than them. After the flight, anybody on-board will have "time traveled" one-millionth of a second into the future. This isn't just some crazy idea, — it's actually been tested. In 1971, scientists put super-precise atomic clocks on airplanes and sent them around the world. They were able to measure the incredibly small discrepancy between the clocks on the airplanes, and clocks on the ground. So next time we end a flight, we're going to make sure to greet everybody as "Future People of Earth." That should go over well.

You encounter high-flying bacteria

Usually we think of bacteria as staying down on the surface of the planet, only flying when they get caught in some water, or in animals. Recent studies have shown that is not the case. In fact, when we fly on airplanes, we are flying through clouds of airborne bacteria and fungus that loves hanging out at high altitude.

Scientists have discovered bacteria as high as 30,000 feet. Most of the bacteria strains are the same as ground-based bacteria, and they are instrumental in forming clouds. Essentially, the flying bacteria do something similar to cloud seeding. They mix in with the clouds and increase their rates of condensation, turning little cloud nuclei into major cloud systems.

If the idea of flying through clouds of bacteria is troubling, don't worry. Chances are they won't get into the cabin of the airplane, but they will affect the weather of the flight. Theorists think that bacteria plays a role in the development of weather systems, and even have a measurable effect on global warming. While flying through clouds laced with a flu bug might not make us sick, it will make an impact on the turbulence and flight quality. Not bad for little microscopic cells.

Our skin becomes much more prone to pimples

Dry cabin air does a number on our bodies, including giving us pimples. Skin just isn't designed to deal with super-dry conditions like an airplane cabin. Dry air will dehydrate skin cells, letting oil get more easily trapped underneath the skin cells. To compound the issue, skin cells will start to overcompensate for the dry conditions, producing even more oil, which in turn gets trapped, forming pimples. Airplanes turn our own skin cells against us.

Oddly, flying east to west makes things even worse! When we travel in that direction, the time zone crossing keeps resetting our internal clocks. Basically, our bodies can't figure out the normal day/night cycle anymore. That really screws up our hormones, since they cycle on a normal 24-hour schedule. When that schedule is messed up, the body ends up overproducing hormones, including the ones that give pimples. That's a huge problem, especially in the modeling business.

Luckily, there are tons of tactics on-line to beat the dry air. Beauticians recommend blotting dry skin to keep it hydrated, using a skin care serum and sunscreen. Since airplanes are closer to the Sun, the UV rays also mess up the skin, so the sunscreen helps. It's a must if you're a model or taking a flight for a romantic rendezvous.

Or, the airliners can just turn their airplanes into a sauna. That'd be fun.

You get gassier

Anybody who has flown knows that, for some reason, getting up into the air makes everyone need to let one rip. That's a terrible thing to do in an airplane, where there is no escape besides taking an impromptu skydive. But why do airplanes mess up our digestive tract so much?

This issue has everything to do with rapid climbing and descending. Airplanes are pressurized, but they aren't pressured to standard atmosphere, just a little less. Since the gas in our bodies was stored while on the ground, it starts to expand when the outside pressure stops. Our skin doesn't slowly let out gas (thank heavens) so we just keep bloating and bloating and bloating, until flatulence is the only escape.

Airplane gas is an issue that there really isn't an escape from. Waiting until the trip is over and the airplane has landed is an option, but an extremely uncomfortable one. BBC advocates wearing charcoal-lined underwear to absorb the scent, believing that a fart is inevitable. Even airliners know that it's an issue, and they purposefully make airline food low in fiber, hoping to relieve some pressure. But those are only stop-gap measures — on airplanes, we are all stink bombs waiting to explode.

You get angrier because you basically have an existential crisis

Some people think air travel is the coolest thing ever. No matter how many inconveniences they may have, flying through the sky is a magical experience. And then there's everybody else, who get angry, uptight, and frustrated. New studies show that this isn't because of the TSA, airplane food, or passenger flatulence. Instead, it's a philosophical issue.

Flying in the air and looking out over the big world is a humbling experience, but in a large group of people, it actually makes them angry. Humans get really pissy when they aren't in control of a situation, but we can usually pretend that we have complete control over our lives. That's impossible to do when looking out the window of an airplane. Air travel makes us super-aware of how little control we have over the world, and that truth really pisses some people off.

For anybody prone to "air-rage," there is no way to defeat it. The mere act of traveling on an airplane twists their minds into existential rage. So while some of us are enjoying flying high into the wild blue yonder, a good chunk of our fellow passengers are confronting deep philosophical issues about human existence. Imagine how bad it must be for a plane full of philosophy professors.