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Fliers' Survival Guide for Airports, Planes

Taking some simple precautions can help ensure a safe and healthy arrival.
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Chew Gum

The uncomfortable feeling of clogged or popping ears when flying occurs because of changes in air pressure and altitude that cause a swelling of your Eustachian tubes. 

"Try yawning, chewing gum, or gently holding your nose and blowing," Powell says. 

Using over-the-counter decongestants, whether pills or nasal sprays, before a flight can also help unclog your ears.

Reset Your Internal Clock ASAP

Jet lag can ruin an otherwise happy holiday vacation. "When you arrive, get right on the new time zone as quickly as you can," Powell says. "If it's bedtime, try to go to bed, and if it's daytime, try to stay awake."

Supplements of the hormone melatonin may help with jet lag by regulating sleep and wake cycles. "Take it before bed," Powell says.

High Anxiety

All of the focus on terrorist attacks has increased anxiety about flying, says Tara Brass, MD, a psychiatrist in Manhattan and Scarsdale, N.Y. "People's level of anxiety has increased since Sept, 11, and this is largely a result of media attention on airplane safety," she says.

If you are an anxious flyer, "fly with somebody you are comfortable with who doesn't share your anxiety," Brass says.

Tune out the background noise with music. "Normal plane noises such as the sound the engine makes after takeoff or before landing can be anxiety-provoking," Brass says. "Bring music to drown it out, listen to in-flight entertainment, or read a trashy magazine for distraction," she says.

If you are traveling alone, tell your neighbor that you are a nervous flier.

"Talk to people around you, and say ' I am afraid of flying, and I may grab your hand," Brass says. But not everyone is up for conversation or hand-holding on your flight, so be respectful of your seatmate's boundaries.

Other tips include always flying direct (to avoid multiple take-off and landings) and not booking early morning or red-eye flights. "Being tired can increase your risk of anxiety," Brass says.

If your fear of flying is paralyzing and interfering with your life, talk to a doctor about medication or a short course of cognitive-behavioral therapy to help change your thought process.

If you follow all of this advice, "you will definitely decrease your odds of getting sick, and increase your odds for a happy holiday visit," Zimring says.

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Reviewed on November 17, 2010

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