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Compiled by Asanda Mbayimbayi


What happens to your body when you drink alcohol on a plane?

If you consume alcoholic beverages during a flight, you may feel the effects more quickly.


For many travellers embarking on international flights, having a beer, glass of wine, or another alcoholic drink has become a ritual to celebrate their upcoming journey, unwind during the flight, or aid in falling asleep on long trips.

However, alcohol affects the body differently at high altitudes.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has shed light on the effects of enjoying alcoholic beverages while flying.

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

What happens when you drink alcohol?

Normally, after consuming an alcoholic drink, the blood alcohol content (BAC) takes around 30 to 60 minutes to reach its maximum effect.

Having multiple alcoholic drinks within a short period can overwhelm your liver’s ability to process the alcohol.

Consequently, the excess alcohol remains unchanged in your bloodstream, causing an increase in the BAC.

As the alcohol travels through your bloodstream, it eventually reaches your brain, acting as a sedative that slows down transmissions and impulses between nerve cells, affecting your thinking and movement.

While alcohol is a depressant, it also reduces inhibitions, explaining the varying behaviour – from cheerful to aggressive – associated with drinking.

Additionally, alcohol increases fluid flow through your kidneys, raising the risk of dehydration.

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What happens when you drink alcohol onboard a plane?

While on a flight, the cabin’s barometric pressure is lower compared to most places on the ground, similar to being at an altitude of 1 800 to 2 200 metres in the mountains.

This reduced pressure affects the body’s oxygen absorption, potentially causing light-headedness, a condition known as hypoxia.

Typically, this is not a significant concern, but it may create sensations similar to those experienced after drinking alcohol.

Hence, if you consume alcoholic beverages during a flight, you may feel the effects more quickly, and this can be noticeable to the crew and other passengers if you overindulge.

Due to the lower oxygen levels in your blood, you might appear more intoxicated in the air than you would on the ground, even if you’ve consumed the same amount of alcohol.

However, your BAC will still reflect the same percentage as it would under similar circumstances on the ground.

Another complication is the dry air inside the aircraft, coupled with the diuretic effect of alcohol, which can lead to faster dehydration compared to being on the ground.

To counteract this, it’s essential to drink water with every alcoholic beverage. Moreover, limiting the intake of salty foods is advisable as they can make you thirstier and encourage faster drinking.

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

What could happen if you overindulge on a plane?

If you enjoy a few too many drinks while on a flight, it could lead to drastic consequences if your behaviour becomes unruly.

The pilot in command of the flight has the authority to remove or hand over unruly passengers to law enforcement agencies.

Therefore, it is advisable to exercise caution and drink responsibly while onboard an aircraft to ensure a safe and pleasant flight experience.

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