Why is drinking alcohol on long haul flights dangerous?

You've had a great year. You and your partner are about to board a long-haul flight to your well-deserved salmon-fishing holiday in Scotland, where you'll be pampered like King Charles in a real Scottish castle – which even has its own river. Your wellies, your waders and your fishing kit are on the plane. Next stop, Edinburgh and the wild Highlands. In the lounge to pass the time, you both decide to start this adventure by ordering a round of delicious Johnnie Walker Black on Ice. Scotland, right? A small dram, as the Scottish say, puts you in the spirit. Literally.

So, maybe you don't want to hear from these otherwise very smart and interesting people during your vacation moments, but the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne has some serious news for you – and they mean it literally: don't drink the firewater, baby! Save it for the palace bar! You paid so much money for a tune on the river that the palace will reward you with a drink anyway!

According to a recent study published in the British medical establishment's horrifyingly titled scientific journal BreastIt turns out that drinking alcohol in a hypobaric environment lowers your oxygen levels as well as increases your heart rate, even, or especially, when you lie down to take a nap afterward—which is an inevitability for everyone on long-distance travel. Really, the question isn't that one who drinks and naps during long journeysBut is there an upside: after being in the air for anywhere from six to twenty hours, depending on your trek, who wouldn’t want to have a glass of wine and take a nap?

For those of us who suffer from aches, pains and illnesses, drinking during a flight is even worse. Researchers in Cologne have proven that alcohol, even as little as two beers before or during a flight, causes a simultaneous spike in heart rate and drop in oxygen saturation in 100% of people, regardless of age or condition.

There is little hope here. Depending on what and how severe our condition or illnesses are – but especially if they are pulmonary and/or cardiac – the risk of an increase in heart rate combined with a severe drop in oxygen levels can make the body susceptible to what doctors would describe as a cardiac “event”. In a word, our body is opportunistic, just like everything else in nature.

If there is a weak link in the ticker, and conditions arise that make it “easy” for one's heart to malfunction based on that weakness, it will do so. With the alcohol-induced “conditions” that those two pops (or more) have created in your body over a (hypobaric) long period of time, the percentage of chance of that event increases.

Depending on what kind of pre-existing health vulnerability you bring with you, drinking alcohol before (or during) a flight can create what we might call ideal “storm conditions,” exposing the body to a much larger and more life-threatening acute condition.

As our friends in Cologne pointed out, 58% of inflight diversions or emergency landings are due to heart attacks. That's less than two-thirds, which is an incredibly large percentage. Not that your pre-flight whiskey is going to do it this time.

But still: A newborn heart attack is the hurricane theory written inside your body, with alcohol playing a role in the warm, dry western trade winds that blow from the Sahara to the Caribbean. They make it easier for hurricanes to form.

In a word, Shame on you! It would be a long, dry flight.

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