23 November 2000

Flight attendants 'should give health advice on take-off'

By Paul Marston, Transport Correspondent

Most air travellers should abstain from alcohol and caffeine before and during flights if they want to reduce any risk of collapsing with a blood clot, a House of Lords report said yesterday.

A nine-month inquiry by peers on the science and technology committee concluded that air travel had "no significant impact" on health for the vast majority of travellers. But airlines were urged to take steps to minimise hazards for the minority.

The report criticised carriers and the Government for "woeful neglect" of medical issues, and called for the mandatory safety demonstration given to passengers before takeoff to be followed by advice on avoiding blood clots.

The committee recommended that travellers most vulnerable to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - anyone over 40, pregnant women or those on the Pill - should avoid drinking alcohol or tea or coffee at the airport or on board. They should also avoid sleeping for long periods in their plane seats. All passengers should be encouraged to move around the cabin and take part in "preventive leg exercises".

Peers also called for seat space and leg room to be increased "to a healthy minimum" and welcomed research by the Civil Aviation Authority into whether the minimum distance of 28 inches between backs of seats needed to be increased. Airlines had told the committee that increasing seat pitch by two inches would raise fares by about 10 per cent.

The report found no evidence to support two common complaints about flying: that the quality of cabin air had fallen since the introduction of recirculatory ventilation systems; and risks of cross-infection between passengers were greater than in other crowded situations.

DVT has been widely discussed since a 28-year-old woman died last month after a 23-hour economy-class flight from Sydney to London. The committee said DVT was not dangerous in itself, but complications arising from it could be potentially fatal, particularly if they led to a blocked blood vessel in the lungs.

DVT occurred "naturally" in one person in 1,000 each year, but the extent to which its incidence was increased by flying could not be known because there had been no rigorous scientific studies.

The peers rejected the term "economy-class syndrome" because DVT also occurred among business and first-class air passengers. Research suggested long train and car journeys could also increase the risk.

The committee calculated that for every million people taking a long journey in a year, only 200 might suffer the condition because of the extra risk of travelling. The report said: "Many of the 200 will have additional risk factors, so for healthy individuals, the risk of getting a clinically significant DVT solely because they are taking a flight seems to be exceedingly small."