Airline passengers routinely suffer from altitude sickness, and aircraft cabins are insufficiently pressurized to prevent it, a new study concludes. Altitudes of 8,000 feet above sea level result in 4% lower oxygen saturation in the blood, researchers found; cabins are often pressurized at the equivalent of 8,000 feet.
The result can be headaches, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty sleeping, especially on long-haul flights of 3 to 9 hours. Maintaining a cabin altitude of 6,000 feet or lower would reduce discomfort, the study concluded. But the higher level of pressurization would have a cost: decreased fuel efficiency, shorter lifespan of the airplane frame, and the necessity for more structural weight, scientists said.