It’s not Easy being Green
Airsickness is one of the most common, and most hated, of all flight-related maladies. Many who’ve flown on an airliner or a small plane know the feeling: lightheadedness followed by an increase in salivation, sweating and clammy skin, a ghostly pallor, and finally nausea and vomiting. Often, an attack of airsickness brings on a fit of sleepiness that can last for hours.
Airsickness is only one form of motion sickness that includes seasickness, carsickness, and trainsickness. I suppose you could even include “carnival sickness”
as another form, because of the feeling, maybe amplified by a stomach full of cotton candy and hot dogs, caused by riding on amusement-park rides.
Airsickness is caused by swinging, turning, rocking, and up-and-down motions. Of all these motions, the worst culprit often is the fishtailing of the plane caused by turbulence or a pilot with heavy feet on the rudder pedals.
Experienced pilots don’t usually have much trouble with airsickness. But for student pilots, airsickness can stand in the way of a hobby, and even a career. With an attentive instructor and some ingenuity, many students are able to overcome this problem.
Here’s a disturbing thought: Some of the pilots flying the jetliners you’ve flown could have been suffering from airsickness during the flight. A 1987 study by the International Federation of the Airline Pilots Association found that 29 percent of pilots couldn’t complete a flight because of airsickness. Fortunately, airline flight crews always consist of two or three pilots.
For a student pilot, a good flight instructor can mean the difference between a quick immunity for airsickness and a slow, painful cure. Smart flight instructors treat the first sign of airsickness by stopping the lesson and landing at the closest available airport. A short break from flying and a walk in the fresh air are often enough to beat back an attack of the “colly-wobbles.”
After a few short flights, with breaks if necessary, most student pilots can develop a pretty good tolerance of airsickness. That’s because the hypersensitivity to motion, which is typically brought on by nervousness about the new experience of flying, gradually eases. Once a beginning pilot feels comfortable in the air, it takes a lot of airplane motion to make her airsick.
Of course, passengers have the option of taking any number of over-the-counter antiairsickness
medicines. Most of them are pretty effective, though they have some side effects. Pilots can’t risk the side effects, which include drowsiness and sluggish reactions.
For pilots or student pilots who sometimes look green around the gills, there are a few folk remedies. Some sufferers swear by the stomach-steadying effects of ginger, either in form of ginger candy or ginger pills; others say ginger ale has the same effect. For the believer in alternative cures, there’s acupressure. According to some, pressure applied about an inch below the wrist joint, on the same side of the wrist as the pinky finger, will cure a case of airsickness after about a minute.
The simplest solution could be watching your diet. Before flying, pilots or passengers who suffer from airsickness should stay away from high-salt foods like chips, as well as pork, beef, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. Also, don’t eat for at least three hours before a flight, and eat small, carbohydrate-rich meals within 24 hours before the flight. Many pilots also bring along a small, energy-filled snack to eat during the flight.
According to some estimates, as many as one person in six suffers from a fear of flying that ranges from jitters to a fear so powerful that the mere thought of flying causes trembling.
One way to calm anxieties over flying is to meet the captain and co-pilot of the flight Pilots are sensitive to the fears of passengers, and usually are glad to chat for a few minutes. Even if they don’t say anything that directly addresses the fear of flying, their natural self-confidence comes through, and often that’s enough to calm a jittery flyer’s fears.