Flight Attendant Health Risks: Does Flying Affect Breathing?

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections


Flight Attendant Health Risks: Does Flying Affect Breathing?


The air on the plane contains less oxygen than we usually breathe. 

Pilots and flight attendants often have to work in shifts, leading to disruptions in their body clocks and potential health issues.

A study by the University of Melbourne identified factors in 930 individuals that contribute to fatigue, sleepiness, shift work disorder (SWD), and depression among flight attendants.

The survey assessed levels of sleepiness and fatigue and screened for insomnia, depression, and SWD. It also collected data on participants’ lifestyle habits and work schedules.

The results reported that 63.5% had abnormal fatigue levels, and 46.9% suffered from excessive daytime sleepiness. Furthermore, 68.0% were at risk for SWD, 57.7% screened positive for insomnia, and 40.0% for depression. 

Let’s find out more about the risks flight attendants face:

What Are Flight Attendant Health Risks?

Flight attendants face various health risks due to the nature of their job, which involves frequent travel, irregular working hours, exposure to cosmic radiation, and dealing with multiple passengers and their potential illnesses. 

Here are some of the health risks associated with being a flight attendant:

Radiation Exposure

Flight attendants are exposed to higher levels of cosmic radiation than the general population because they fly at high altitudes where the Earth’s atmosphere provides less protection against cosmic rays.

Jet Lag and Sleep Disorders

Irregular and long working hours and crossing multiple time zones can disrupt sleep patterns, fatigue and jet lag. Chronic sleep deprivation can also increase the risk of various health problems.

Musculoskeletal Problems

Lifting heavy luggage, pushing food and beverage carts, and standing for extended periods can lead to musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain, joint problems, and repetitive strain injuries.

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Exposure to Infectious Diseases

Flight attendants are often in close contact with passengers worldwide, increasing their risk of exposure to infectious diseases, including respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal infections.

Certain conditions, like upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), are caused by viruses or bacteria. URTI is contagious and can be spread by inhaling droplets of the virus by touching surfaces, sneezing, or coughing.

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Exposure to Airborne Contaminants

Poor air quality in aircraft cabins, exposure to engine exhaust fumes, and chemicals used in aircraft maintenance can pose health risks to flight attendants.

Stress and Mental Health

Dealing with demanding passengers, managing emergencies, and coping with the job’s demands can cause stress, anxiety, or other issues.

Dehydration and Fatigue

The dry air in aircraft cabins can lead to dehydration, irregular working hours, and long flights, resulting in fatigue and exhaustion.

To mitigate them, airlines and regulatory agencies have implemented various measures and guidelines to ensure the well-being of flight attendants. 

They include training, promoting healthy lifestyle choices to reduce radiation exposure, and offering support services for mental well-being.

Flight attendants must be aware of risks and proactively protect their health by maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated. They should also exercise regularly, practice good sleep hygiene, and seek medical attention when needed.

Does Flying Affect Breathing?

Flying can indeed affect breathing, though the extent and nature of the impact can vary from person to person. Here are some ways flying can affect breathing:

Low Cabin Humidity

The air inside airplane cabins tends to be dry, with humidity levels often below 20%. This can cause dryness in the nasal passages and throat, leading to discomfort or irritation, affecting breathing.

Changes in Cabin Pressure

Commercial airplanes simulate an atmosphere around 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. 

Some people may experience mild symptoms similar to altitude sicknesses, such as shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, due to the reduced oxygen levels at these altitudes.

Recirculated Air

Airplanes use recirculated air, meaning you’re breathing air used by others. 

While the air is filtered to remove bacteria and viruses, some people feel that the recycled air is stuffy or lacking freshness, affecting their breathing comfort.

Is Being A Flight Attendant Bad For Your Health?

Despite these potential risks, many flight attendants mitigate these health concerns by practicing self-care, staying physically active, maintaining a balanced diet, and seeking support when needed. 

Airlines also provide training and resources to help flight attendants manage their health and well-being.

Consult a healthcare professional for the right guidance and treatment for any condition. If you are suffering from extreme fatigue, it is advisable to rest to avoid potential ailments.


There are numerous health risks for a flight attendant from their work environment, including irregular sleep patterns, musculoskeletal strain, and mental health challenges. 

Awareness, proactive measures, and employer support can help mitigate these risks and promote well-being in this demanding profession.


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