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Are You Fit to Fly?

Most aircraft cruise at about 30,000 feet. Pressurization of the plane makes this equivalent to about 8,000 feet above sea level, or the altitude of Aspen, Colorado. Most people have no problem with this, considering we are mainly sitting like couch potatoes during the flight. But for some, this and other aspects of flight might present a problem.

  • Anemia – the usual adult hemoglobin (red blood cell count) is between 12 and 15 (120 to 150 in Canada). Anyone whose hemoglobin is less than 8.5 (85 in Canada) may have difficulty during flight due to the decreased level of oxygen. Supplemental oxygen can be arranged in advance, or travel can be postponed. People with sickle cell anemia, an inherited disorder in Blacks, may also be at risk.
  • Pregnancy – women are not permitted on international flights after 36 weeks of gestation because of the risk of early delivery. (I am comfortable with fainters, but not childbirth!)
  • Scuba diving – divers are at risk of decompression illness if they fly in a low-pressure environment too soon after diving. The accepted safe interval between the last dive (depending upon the depth) and flight is 12-24 hours.
  • Heart and lung disease – people with severe cardiovascular disease, such as unstable angina, congestive heart failure or a recent heart attack or stroke, should preferably not fly. The same goes for those with severe COPD, acute asthma or a chest infection.
  • Psychiatric – those with an unstable condition such as psychosis should not fly unless they are accompanied by a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse.

Personally, I enjoy getting on the plane, plugging in my headphones, finding my pillow... and drifting off to sleep.

Content (c) Mark Wise
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