How To Survive A Long Flight When You Are Sick To Your Stomach

There’s little worse than feeling sick and having no escape from the thing that’s making you sick. But sometimes that’s the reality of flying. So how can you make this situation a little less awful or better yet prevent it altogether? Here are my tips from over 20 years of flying with a sensitive belly.

Before You Board

Choose your seat wisely

If you’re prone to airsickness, you always want to choose a window seat over the wings or a seat near the front of the plane. You’ll feel less of the motion of the plane from these seats and decrease your chances of developing airsickness.

Pack your bags carefully

One of the best ways to avoid or recover from airsickness is to come prepared. Even if you’ve never been sick on a plane before make sure you have these things in the bag you put under the seat in front of you:

  • anti-nausea medication
  • anti-diarrhea medication
  • ginger chews
  • a light bland snack like crackers
  • water

Drink water and use the restroom

Eat light the day you fly and the day before. Avoid foods that make you feel anything other than full after you eat them. Anything that has you feeling bloated or running to the bathroom on the ground will do the same thing in the air. Avoid greasy, salty, sugary foods and drinks. Keep your caffeine intake to your usual level or a little bit less. Avoid alcohol. Drink plenty of water the day before and day of your flight. Dehydration will only increase your likelihood of feeling sick. Finally, use the bathroom a few minutes before you board so that your system is as empty as possible before subjecting your body to the stresses of flight.

On The Plane

Locate the airsick bag

You don’t want to feel sick and have to dig through the seat pocket to find the airsick bag only to discover it has a hole in it. I speak from experience. Place it in the front of the pocket where it is easy to reach if you don’t feel well. Even if you don’t use it, it feels kind of like a security blanket if you think the worst may happen. (Bonus: If you’re on an empty-ish flight without assigned seats and you make a show of looking for it, the person next to you may switch seats.)

Take your medications

Take your anti-nausea medications at the first sign of nausea and your anti-diarrhea medications at the first sign of diarrhea. You brought them for a reason. You can also decrease nausea by chewing on ginger gum or ginger chews. You can pick these up at most pharmacies in the US.

If you’re prone to certain symptoms when you fly, then go ahead and take medications for that before you get on the plane or as soon as you board.

Breathe deeply

Close your eyes and breathe. Focus on your breathing and ignore everything. This will calm your body and can decrease symptoms of an upset stomach.

Stretch your legs

Standing can help your body get a better sense of balance. The motion of taking a walk and stretching often helps my symptoms calm down at least for a few minutes.

Ask for what you need

Flight attendants are there to care for you and they have seen it all. If you need water, help adjusting the fan above your seat, a new airsick bag, or more tips on how to survive the flight while you feel awful, ring the call bell and ask. Be polite, friendly, and honest. No one has witnessed more airsickness than a flight attendant so they know all the tricks to wellness too.

After You Land

Drink water

Water is your best friend when you’re sick. If you’ve been throwing up or had diarrhea then you are at high risk of becoming dehydrated. You’ll recover more quickly if you keep your fluid intake up.

Eat a little

When you’re ready, have some crackers or something light. At this point, an empty stomach won’t help you.

Be grateful for standing still

Before you get in your ground transportation, take a few minutes to stand or sit still. If you’re not quite feeling better yet, getting on a new form of transportation will only make things worse.

What are your best tips for surviving nausea and/or diarrhea on planes?

Erin Southerland is a travel writer and fitness coach based in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes about her adventures at Don’t Forget to Eat.

12 Responses to How To Survive A Long Flight When You Are Sick To Your Stomach

  1. M January 7, 2016 at 11:43 AM #

    I also recommend activated charcoal tablets! They really ease any upset stomach symptoms I have and I am very prone to motion sickness.

    • Erin Southerland January 8, 2016 at 1:32 PM #

      M, thanks for that idea! I’ve never tried them before. But it’s always good to have lots of things in your arsenal.

  2. Alouise January 7, 2016 at 4:13 PM #

    I was sick for a few days in Madrid, and only started feeling better about 10 minutes before boarding my flight to Switzerland (thankfully). One thing I did was dress in layers so if I got hot I could remove a layer (like my cardigan over my shirt) and if I was cold I could put a layer on. Having medication and staying hydrated helps too.

    • Erin Southerland January 8, 2016 at 1:33 PM #

      Layers are great! I’ve also found that if you’re cold and ill the flight attendants are more than happy to get you a blanket (provided they have them). But to fix hot and ill you really have to have layers.

  3. partnier January 10, 2016 at 10:08 AM #

    What I find working for me:
    – Avoid reading in a plane, just go to sleep whenever you can
    – Have mint chewing gum ready, it reduces the sickness for me

    Hope this is helpful for other people

  4. Neha Bhatt Bhagat January 13, 2016 at 6:36 AM #

    Great ideas, will try them next time…lovely post…

  5. Travel and Visit January 14, 2016 at 1:35 PM #

    I agree with the logic of choosing the seat and others. I believe, drinking water and breathing deeply are the best medications in this sort of circumstance.

  6. Izy berry January 18, 2016 at 12:10 AM #

    That can happen so thanks for all the tips I will add that you should ask if they have like healthy food

  7. Diana Smith February 3, 2016 at 5:47 AM #

    Very useful post! Thanks a lot for sharing it with your readers. For travellers like me and many others, this post will be of great help when we wouldn’t like to cancel our trip just because of an upset stomach.

  8. afzalhai October 1, 2016 at 8:11 AM #

    Be calm and patient and be prepared mentally for taking things slow. Yes and that includes not to have heavy lunch or dinner depending on the time of day for the sake of avoid getting stomach cramps.
    Thanks for the post, I would be travelling next Monday and the tips will help me immensely.

  9. Louise Cookie Thorpe February 10, 2017 at 12:27 AM #

    I’m flying to the USA in August and I get really bad motion sickness.
    last time we flew there is was ill for 12 hours after. it was horrible.
    can anyone help me with any advice what Medicine I can take . 1 to calm me down and 2 to stop me feeling so sick
    thanks louise in the UK

    • Sam February 10, 2017 at 11:00 AM #

      I have quitiapine/seroquel which is anxiety medicine prescribed by my doctor (in NZ), I don’t get motion sickness but I’m terrified of flying, if I take one right before boarding then I’m asleep before the plane is even in the sky, and I feel pretty calm in general if I happen to wake up.

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