The Real Cure for Airsickness | GroundSchool.com

The Real Cure for Airsickness

All too often, we hear horror stories of potential flight students going on their first discovery flights like this and getting sick. This is entirely normal and happens more often than you might think. Around 15% of new students struggle with airsickness at the beginning of their training.

Here’s what’s happening in your body. The brain, like an airplane, requires several different systems to deliver information. The system that controls balance is called the vestibular system. Located in the inner ear, this system is comprised of 3 pairs of semicircular canals and 2 sacs, called the saccule and the utricle. The semicircular canals hold a fluid that moves when the head turns. This means they are sensitive to gravity and tell the brain whether you are standing up or lying down. They send this data to the brain, but sometimes the brain gets confused.

In an airplane, you feel like you’re moving, but your eyes tell your brain that you don’t appear to be going anywhere. The opposite is true as well. After being on a boat for a while, you can stand still on dry land but still feel like you’re moving.

BUT THERE IS HOPE! It simply requires time for your body to get accustomed to these new, and often conflicting, sensations.

Airsickness affects everyone differently. Even highly experienced pilots may get airsick from time to time. Unfortunately, there is no overnight cure for airsickness, and most over-the-counter medications designed to treat it are prohibited by the FAA. But there are some proven ways to mitigate it as you progress through your aviation journey.

 

  1. First and foremost, understand that your tendency toward airsickness is temporary. With experience, you will develop a tolerance. Patience is the real (and permanent) cure.

  2. Be honest with your instructor about how you’re feeling. The worst thing you can do is try to “push through it” and keep training while you’re feeling terrible. At that point, no knowledge is being transferred. When you are feeling ill, it is time to end the lesson and get back on the ground.

  3. Heat is one of the biggest contributors to airsickness. Avoid training in the hottest parts of the day. Instead, try and fly either early in the morning or later in the evening while the air is smoother and the temperature is cooler.

  4. Keep the vents open. Fresh and cool outside air will help.

  5. Eat light and stay hydrated. A heavy meal will not feel good if your stomach starts tying itself in knots.

  6. Don’t jump right into “unusual attitudes” and “steep turns.” Nothing in the ACS requires those to be taught right away, so ease into the dramatic stuff. If these are triggers for your air sickness, push them off to future lessons.

 

Your goal is not to win a fight with airsickness. Your goal is to complete your flight lesson without feeling nauseous to begin with!

Now that you know what’s going on and what you can do to fight it, don’t get discouraged. The worst part of airsickness is the fear of becoming sick again. This can make it hard to get back into the plane and keep training your body to get used to it. If this is something that’s happening to you, you’re in good company. Keep your lessons short, do everything you can to mitigate it, stay positive, and keep flying!



Nate Tennant

About the Author

Nate Tennant is an ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI with a wide range of experience. With thousands of hours flying Part 135 charter, Part 121, and instructing, he contributes a wide range of knowledge as Gold Seal’s Chief Operating Officer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from Belmont University.