Scientists warn that drinking alcohol on flights may pose health risks

The act of drinking alcohol on flights has become a common practice for many travelers, whether to celebrate the beginning or end of a vacation, to help ease flight anxiety, or to aid in sleeping during the journey. However, recent research conducted by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and RWTH Aachen University has shed light on the potential health risks associated with consuming alcohol at high altitudes.

One major factor to consider is the reduced oxygen levels experienced in an aircraft cabin, which is equivalent to being at an altitude of around 2,500 meters. This decrease in oxygen saturation can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and increased heart rate, especially in older passengers or individuals with underlying medical conditions. The study, published in the journal Thorax, highlights the importance of maintaining adequate oxygen levels to ensure proper functioning of muscles and organs, particularly the brain.

The research involved 48 participants who were divided into two groups—one group was examined under normal ambient pressure conditions, while the other group was exposed to air pressure resembling that of an airplane cabin. Those who consumed alcohol before sleeping experienced higher heart rates and lower oxygen saturation levels compared to the control group. This disparity was observed even in young and healthy individuals, indicating the potential risks associated with alcohol consumption and sleeping while flying.

As a result, the researchers suggest reevaluating existing regulations on airplanes and potentially limiting alcohol intake on board to mitigate the strain on the cardiac system, especially for vulnerable populations. While further research is needed to fully understand the implications of alcohol consumption at high altitudes, this study serves as a catalyst for future investigations in this area.

In conclusion, it is essential for passengers to be mindful of the potential health risks associated with drinking alcohol on flights, particularly in the context of reduced oxygen levels and increased heart rate. By addressing these concerns and promoting awareness of the impact of alcohol consumption at high altitudes, travelers can prioritize their well-being during air travel.


Effects of moderate alcohol consumption and hypobaric hypoxia: implications for passengers’ sleep, oxygen saturation and heart rate on long-haul flights, 2024.

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