Time To Get Off Your …..

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•01

cover2001-01Anyone planning to travel in ‘cattle’ class on an inter-continental flight anticipates, with dread, the discomfort as a result of the cramped legroom on modern aircraft, just as I did on a recent trip to Washington, where the cheapest way of getting there was to route via Johannesburg and Paris.

On the Johannesburg – Paris – Washington flights and on the Paris – Johannesburg flight, the aircraft was one of Air France’s recently refurbished Airbus aircraft (I can’t remember which model). The flight from Washington to Paris was one of the older Airbus’ and what was apparent from the very beginning was that there was slightly more legroom on the refurbished aircraft.

On my return trip, I had less than thirty-five minutes from the time we landed to change for the South African Airways flight from Johannesburg to Lusaka. Second from last to board the bus from the terminal to the aircraft, I was a little concerned to see that we would be flying on one of SAA’s older Boeing 737’s.  But, I figured, despite the age, the maintenance of the aircraft would be carried out regularly and in accordance with regulations, so I boarded happily and took my seat. Having just endured a ten-hour flight, I was delighted to find that the legroom was at least fifty percent more than that on the Air France flights.

By this time, I had been traveling for thirty hours, but before I dropped off to sleep, I did question why a 737, which is a shorthaul aircraft, would have more legroom than an aircraft on a longhaul route. I decided it was undoubtedly to do with the age of the aircraft.

About a month later, I found an article in a Time magazine, explaining that legroom, or the lack of it, could have greater implications than the discomfort that passengers have to endure – it could possibly be fatal. Three passengers are suspected to have succumbed recently to what some writers are calling ‘the economy-class syndrome’, complications from sitting too long in cramped airline seats.   Recently, an apparently healthy woman in her twenty’s took a twenty-hour flight and collapsed and died ten minutes after arrival from a deep venous thrombosis (DVT), that lodged in one of her lungs.

Whilst some airlines dispute the links between cramped seats and DVT, doctors generally agree that some people are at greater risk than others when they sit for long periods of time, be it in the air or on the ground. Those who have reason to be concerned are those with a history of stroke or heart conditions, those older than sixty-five, anyone with raised estrogen levels and those with circulatory disorders that make blood more susceptible to clotting. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fly – you should just take more care.

Anyone travelling long distances should ensure that they don’t remain seated for the entire flight, get up occasionally and walk up and down the length of the aircraft or do some toe raises (lift yourself up on your toes for a few seconds, relax and then do it again). Forty to fifty toe raises are enough to generate leg-muscle contractions that will pump blood up your veins thus preventing it from pooling and possibly causing a clot.

Other precautions are to drink adequate quantities of nonalcoholic fluids before and during the flight (this also helps to lessen jetlag) and always be on the alert for pain or swelling in your legs.

According to an article by the African Medical and Research Foundation in Msafiri, the Kenya Airways Inflight magazine, other not-so-serious conditions that should be considered when flying, especially on long distance flights are diabetes, epilepsy and asthma

Over the years, I have flown on a fair number of different airlines on a number of different routes, and it seems that on all inter-continental flights, the problem is always the same, not enough legroom. Yet every year, we read of the same airlines making profits of millions of Dollars. According to the 1999 annual report of one of the larger European airlines, they realised a pre-tax profit of $ 360 million (down from $ 928 million and $ 1,024 million in the previous two years). In all three years, the average passenger load factor did not exceed 78%. Thus, by reducing the number of rows of seats by ten percent, passengers in cattle class could gain up to ten centimetres more legroom and it wouldn’t make a significant difference to the bottom line profit. Perhaps now is the time for longhaul airlines to start giving a little more thought to the comfort of their passengers.

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