The physical effects of an economy flight on a fit person's body
When it comes to air travel, basic economics explains the more you pay, the better the flight experience. While it’s possible that it's been a while since you last saw the back of a plane, we assure you coach is not getting better. Seats are shrinking, the pay-for-everything structure (from exit rows to luggage) is rising, and two bathrooms per hundreds of passengers continues to plague stress levels. Need more reason to never book economy? It takes a toll on your health and fitness in more ways than one. Here are four reasons why you should always pay more to fly better.
1. You'll prevent back pain and "economy class leg."
In order for airlines to maximize profits, they continue to shrink economy seats to fit more passengers. According to theNew York Times, standard seats that were 18 inches wide with a 35-inch pitch in the 1970s have been whittled down to 16 1/2 inches wide with a 31-inch pitch. While economy-comfort seats offer a few more inches, business- and first-class sections have ample room with seats averaging 18-34 inches in width and 33-94 inches in pitch.
What’s more, most large airlines now offer fully lie-flat seats in the front of the plane. While it’s still necessary to get up and move around, having the luxury to lie down takes pressure off your lower back and spine that comes with sitting in an upright position for hours. “Depending on how long your flight is, just sitting the whole time can be problematic," says Jordan Metzl, M.D., primary care sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “This can cause anything from minor pain in your back and legs to life-threatening blood clots known as DVTs,” says Metzl. (In fact, the DVT problem reported in transcontinental flights has also been called “economy class leg.”) Even the more minor aches can impact your fitness routine upon landing, but these risks are mitigated in better classes since you can recline completely.
Still, whether you're stuck in coach or not, a great pre-flight workout would include some planks and foam rolling: “The more time you spend in plank building up your core muscles, and also the more quality time you spend with your foam roller loosening up your back muscles, the better you’ll feel after your flight,” Metzl says.
2. You’ll minimize stress.
Higher class cabins eliminate common stressors via priority access, private bathrooms, and more. Why this is important: There is a muscular stress associated with tension, says Metzl. "When there’s a tense environment, and when the muscles are taught, they’ll likely feel worse at the end of a flight.” While this is likely temporary, it may mean you're more likely to skip your planned workout upon landing, per Metzl.
3. You'll eat way better (and healthier).
Most business- and first-class cabins are stocked with coursed-out, plated menus to ensure a better (and often better-for-you) dining experience than a sandwich in a bag. "According to Business Insider, airlines recently spent about $2 billion dollars improving the quality of food...in first class," says Cassie Kipper, a registered dietitian and personal training manager at Equinox Santa Monica. In coach, on the other hand, "The food generally comes packaged for shelf life and convenience in storing and serving so you'll likely find more preservatives, such as sodium, and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables," Kipper adds.
Outside of freshness, passengers up front can also expect more options and even celebrity chef-created meals. Delta has worked with James Beard award-winner Michelle Bernstein (who appears on shows like Melting Pot on Food Network and Iron Chef America) and Danny Meyer; Singapore Airlines uses a panel that has included Suzanna Goin (famed LA chef) and Sanjeev Kapoor (India’s most recognized chef, TV host, and author); and Air France constantly rotates Michelin-starred chefs like Guy Martin and Joel Robuchon.
4. You may sleep better than you do at home.
From United’s Polaris to Delta’s Delta One, these airlines are offering sleeker design, better technology, amenity kits that include everything from pajamas to designer moisturizer and luxe bedding. United, for example, recently unveiled custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue in their Polaris class (in addition to products like moisturizers from Soho House & Co’s Cowshed Spa), and Delta partnered with Westin for their signature Westin Heavenly In-flight bedding. These adjustments are making flights more conducive to sleep.