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Keeping Healthy

How to Clear That Airport Hurdle

March 09, 1986|DR. KARL NEUMANN | Neumann is a Forest Hills, N.Y., pediatrician who writes on travel-related matters

You arrive at the airport already fatigued from too little sleep the night before, erratic eating and hectic last-minute packing.

You stand in line to check in. Then you carry your heavy hand pieces to your gate (which is usually at the other end of the airport at least a quarter of a mile away).

If you are a little late, you run for it. By the time you reach your gate your breathing sounds like a jet engine.

Overseas, after a tiring, all-night flight, you stand in line for half an hour or so for passport control and then you still have to wait for your luggage. Then you scurry around for a cart or you lug your bags hither and yon until you figure out where you are supposed to go.

Not so surprisingly, several recent studies show that airports are the most challenging segments of long trips. And if you are in poor health or elderly, airports can be downright hazardous.

Stay Away From the Bar

So what can you do? You can minimize the amount of baggage you take along, pack the day before you travel, arrive early at the airport to give yourself time to catch your breath, check as much luggage as possible and, when necessary, get a porter or ask for a wheelchair. Also, if your flight is delayed, stay away from the bar.

Here are some other suggestions from experts for getting through airports safely, comfortably and in good health:

Watch your step, literally. According to Dr. John P. Herrlin, longtime physician at La Guardia Airport in New York, passengers injure themselves at airports by falling over their own luggage. They do so especially at check-in counters, tripping over rope rails used for crowd control, getting thin heels caught in elevators and people movers, having run-ins with glass partitions and getting hit by automatic doors.

If you have had a recent heart or lung problem, check with your physician to see if you are ready to travel, says Dr. Terrance O'Malley, physician at Logan International Airport in Boston. Your condition may be stable at home but could act up in the hectic environment of the airport.

Counteracting the Cramps

When your flight has a long delay, take frequent brisk walks to exercise your leg muscles. Also, if you can, at stops, get off the plane and walk around the airport. This helps counteract the cramps, aches and pains caused by prolonged sitting on airplanes.

Many travelers believe that food and alcoholic drinks at airports are more easily digested than in flight. Not so. Food and drinks stay in your stomach and intestine for many hours. The decreased atmospheric pressure in airplane cabins will have the same effect on food and drinks in your system no matter where you ingested it. Eat lightly and drink moderately at airports and in the air.

Get a lightweight, collapsible two-wheel luggage carrier to transport your hand pieces. Most air crews use them but surprisingly few passengers do.

Pick up luggage by bending your knees, not by bending your back. This is especially important when you pick up heavy luggage and have to lift it to the check-in scale or to place it into or take it out of the trunk of a car.

Take special care when you arrive at airports at high altitude, Denver and Mexico City, for example. The thin air worsens fatigue. Minimize exertion. Ask for assistance if you feel especially tired or lightheaded.

Safety First

Renting a car at an airport immediately after long flights, especially all-night flights to Europe or Asia, increases your chances of having a traffic accident, say safety officials. Some people have accidents even before they get out of the airport area. A combination of jet lag, lack of sleep, alcoholic drinks, unfamiliar roads and other factors interfere with thought processes and increase reaction time.

During stopovers at airports in Third World countries, observe the same food and water precautions as when you would visit that country. Avoid tap water, ice cubes, salads and creamy desserts. If air travel makes you thirsty, which it usually does, drink bottled soft drinks or beer. Generally, in Third World countries, food and water is safer on the airplane than on the ground.

Airport security systems are considered safe if you are pregnant even though some of the devices may give off small amounts of radiation. If you prefer, security guards will check you with hand-held metal detectors.

If you travel with an infant, consider taking a collapsible stroller and a sling or backpack. The stroller is helpful around the airport and flight attendants will generally allow you to take the stroller aboard the airplane. A sling or backpack leaves your hands free when you board and get off the airplane.

Most medium and large airports in this country and abroad have medical departments that are generally open at all of the hours the airport is operational. The personnel are trained to help you with health problems large or small: a cot to rest if you are unusually fatigued; help with giving yourself injections; immunizations or medications that you forgot to get for overseas travel; assistance in finding additional medical help in the city you are visiting; help in contacting Travelers Aid or similar organizations in case you have personal problems.

Overseas, an additional advantage is that airport medical personnel generally speak English.

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