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The Huge Effect A 20-Hour Flight Has On The Human Body

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The Huge Effect A 20-Hour Flight Has On The Human Body

The effects of long-haul flights on the human body have been revealed as Qantas unveils the world's longest direct commercial flight.

After three test flights in 2019, Qantas has announced the approval of Project Sunrise, which will see travellers able to fly non-stop from Sydney to London in a 20-hour journey. A Sydney to New York route is also in the works.

While many of us suffer from a stiff neck, dry skin, a dodgy back or a dead leg after a flight, what could a whopping 19-20 hours in the sky mean for our health?

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Qantas has unveiled the world's longest direct flight. Credit: Alamy
Qantas has unveiled the world's longest direct flight. Credit: Alamy

The test flights, which took place nearly three years ago, saw 40 'guinea pig' passengers, pilots and crew accompanied by medical experts and scientists from the Alertness Safety and Productivity Cooperative Research Centre, Monash University and Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre.

CEO of Qantas group, Alan Joyce, said: "For customers, the key will be minimizing jet lag and creating an environment where they are looking forward to a restful, enjoyable flight. For crew, it’s about using scientific research to determine the best opportunities to promote alertness when they are on duty and maximize rest during their down time on these flights."

Various medical checks were performed on those onboard before and after the flight, and the pilots' alertness was monitored via electroencephalogram (EEG) devices.

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Co-founder and director of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE) and instructor in the department of environmental health, Dr Eileen McNeely, explained the effects of long-term flight are the same as short-term, but will be felt for longer.

She said: "Passengers will still face possible hypoxia, dehydration, muscular aches from lack of mobility, exposure to loud noise, jet lag, exposure to cosmic radiation and possible cabin air contaminants.

"These conditions pose a greater threat for vulnerable passengers with underlying diseases that already cause these problems."

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Long-haul flights have the same risks as short-haul, the effects just can be felt for longer according to  Dr Eileen McNeely. Credit: Alamy
Long-haul flights have the same risks as short-haul, the effects just can be felt for longer according to Dr Eileen McNeely. Credit: Alamy

On average, on a 10-hour flight, women lose 1.6 litres of water, and men 25 percent more.

Being near someone who has a cold for such a lengthy period of time could also put you at greater risk of being infected.

The longer you're on a flight, the greater the risk you have of deep vein thrombosis – the formation of a blood clot, typically in your leg. However, you can combat this by getting up and walking around at least every two hours.

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Pilot and cabin crew will also see greater exposure to cosmic ionising radiation. While it doesn't pose much of a risk to passengers, pregnant woman are advised to try and avoid such long-haul flights.

While there's no transfer stress because of the flight being direct, that's not to say that travelling via plane is always the most relaxing of experiences, with anxieties around flying potentially intensified because of the journey's length.

Longer-haul flights increase the risk of infection. Credit: Alamy
Longer-haul flights increase the risk of infection. Credit: Alamy

Dr McNeely explained it is hoped that quieter engines, increased humidity and higher cabin pressures could help alleviate some of these symptoms.

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Qantas has also revealed there is a 'wellbeing zone' in the centre of the planes for passengers to copy stretch exercises from a screen, get something to eat and have a move around.

Joyce also explained the cabin 'is being specifically designed for maximum comfort in all classes'. However, more expensive cabins in premium class will make up more than 40% of the seats.

Aeronautical and economic analyst at Leeham News, Bjorn Fehrm, said the flights will likely be used by businesspeople, however he noted that some people may be 'prepared to pay the extra price of that ticket'.

Qantas CEO Joyce concluded: "New types of aircraft make new things possible. That’s what makes today’s announcement so significant for the national carrier and for a country like Australia where air travel is crucial.

"The Board’s decision to approve what is the largest aircraft order in Australian aviation is a clear vote of confidence in the future of the Qantas Group. Our strategy for these aircraft will see us generate significant benefits for those who make it possible – our people, our customers and our shareholders."

The flights are expected to begin at the end of 2025 from Sydney. They will have four different travel classes and carry up to 238 passengers.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]  

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: News, Health, Travel, Australia

Poppy Bilderbeck

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