What alcohol really does to your body on an airplane
By USA Today
August 19, 2015
While on a flight, if you’ve only had a couple drinks and already you’re trying to convince your neighbor there’s a monster on the wing, you might not be entirely crazy — it might just be that the booze has gone to your head a little more than usual.
At cruising level, the altitude inside the plane cabin is different than it is on the ground, even though the cabin is pressurized. According to the World Health Organization, Air pressure inside the cabin is actually equivalent to the pressure at 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level — roughly the same as Bogotá or Yosemite National Park. The higher up you go, the thinner the air gets, and when you rise in altitude fast the body doesn’t get as much oxygen as it needs, which can cause symptoms of altitude sickness. There’s plenty of oxygen onboard, but the atmospheric pressure is lower so the body absorbs less oxygen into the bloodstream. Depending on the person, that could be a 5% to 20% decrease in oxygen, according to USA TODAY. People with heart and lung conditions might also be susceptible to hypoxia.
While scientific studies have shown that drinking alcohol at a higher altitude does not actually increase your blood alcohol level, it might make you feel more drunk than usual. Suddenly going up to 8,000 feet increases dizziness, lightheadedness, and drowsiness, which are the symptoms of altitude sickness. These are also sensations associated with being drunk (in case you can’t recall). So, altitude + alcohol = dizzy times two.
Furthermore, you stand more of a chance of getting dehydrated while on a plane because the air humidity sits at around 20 percent, which is much dryer than your average environment. Dehydration makes you feel even more dizzy.
Of course, we’re not recommending you don’t have a drink or three on the plane (especially if they’re free), but just don’t turn into the drunk guy who causes a spectacle.