Flying makes thinking hard - expert

The higher altitudes experienced when flying make it harder to think. Photo / Thinkstock
The higher altitudes experienced when flying make it harder to think. Photo / Thinkstock

Next time you fly, here's the perfect excuse to switch off your laptop, put down the crossword and settle in with a drink and an in-flight movie.

Travelling by plane can make it more difficult to think, according to Britain's foremost aviation doctor.

Professor David Gradwell advises fliers to sit back and relax rather than keeping busy by doing puzzles or catching up on important work.

This is because the air pressure on board planes is lower than it is at sea level, making it harder for the brain to make use of oxygen in the air, diminishing its performance.

Typically, when a plane is cruising at 40,000ft, the air pressure in the cabin will be equivalent to that found outside at 6000 to 8000ft.

Professor Gradwell, of King's College London, explained: "Learning is a bit impaired at 8000ft so performance of recently learned tasks is a bit impaired at 8000ft. You don't want to make the biggest decision of your life."

However, if you are well-practised in a task, it is unlikely your performance will be affected.

Prof Gradwell, the UK's first full-time professor of aviation medicine, said: "If you regularly do a crossword, you are going to be fine. But if it is something that is new to you, you are probably not going to do it as well."

This explains why commercial pilots' thinking is not impaired. They get used to carrying out tasks in a simulator at ground level before they might have to carry them out during a flight.

Prof Gradwell said his advice could become even more pertinent if internet access becomes widespread on planes, meaning businessmen and women are more likely to use flying time to work.

"Those looking forward to having emails in flight might want to think twice about sending that email to the bank manager," he said.

The former RAF medic also insisted that most people's fears of deep vein thrombosis are groundless.

The condition, dubbed 'economy class syndrome', has caused anxiety among holidaymakers, business people and frequent fliers.

But Prof Gradwell said it's extremely rare, other than in those who have late-stage cancer or another medical condition that predisposes them to blood clots.

The evidence that compression stockings will help prevent DVT in healthy people is inconclusive.

Passengers should, however, stay hydrated and exercise their legs.

"No matter how small your seat, you can always flex your seat, raise and lower your feet and exercise your calves," he said.

"Flying is safe. Millions of people do it every year, without any issues at all."


- Daily Mail

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