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The hidden risks of drinking alcohol on airplanes

man in first class drinking alcohol

Enjoying a drink while flying is common practice for many travelers, but recent research suggests it might be best to think twice before ordering that in-flight cocktail. A study published in the journal Thorax reveals that consuming alcohol at high altitudes can significantly impact your heart rate and blood oxygen levels, potentially compromising your health.

Understanding the effects of alcohol at high altitudes

The study involved 48 healthy adults who were divided into groups to assess the effects of alcohol consumption under simulated flight conditions. Participants who consumed alcohol experienced lower blood oxygen levels and higher heart rates when sleeping in a low-pressure environment, similar to that found in airplane cabins. This was in contrast to more stable vitals in a normal pressure setting.

Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a board-certified cardiologist, explains that alcohol leads to dehydration, which thickens the blood and makes it harder for the heart to pump efficiently, especially in low-oxygen environments. This can strain the heart and exacerbate conditions like coronary artery disease or heart failure.

Who should avoid drinking on flights?

Dr. Tadwalkar advises that individuals with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, older adults, and anyone aiming to optimize sleep quality during flights should avoid alcohol. The combination of alcohol’s dehydrating effects and the low oxygen pressure in airplane cabins can be particularly harmful.


While it might be tempting to kickstart your vacation with a drink, the health risks associated with drinking alcohol on an airplane, particularly during long-haul flights, are significant. Understanding these risks can help travelers make better choices for their health and well-being while flying.