Ever wondered why you feel tipsier when drinking on a plane?

Think twice before you order your in-flight drink. Picture: Supplied

Think twice before you order your in-flight drink. Picture: Supplied

Published Aug 2, 2023


Ever wonder why you feel most tipsy while drinking on a plane?

For most frequent flyers, having a drink or three on a plane seems to be the remedy for long-distance travels.

For some passengers, having a glass of wine or beer eliminates the lengthy travel time and helps them sleep throughout the flight.

But have you ever experienced feeling tipsier more quickly in a plane than on the ground?

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines spills the tea on why your alcoholic drink has a more profound impact on your body when consuming it on a plane.

Here’s what happens to your body when you drink alcohol:

When you’re enjoying your drink, there is a 30 to 60 minute time frame in which blood alcohol content (BAC) takes to reach its maximum peak in your system.

If you’re drinking on impulse, with minimum breaks between drinks, you are expecting your body to cope with more alcohol than your liver can process. In such a case, the excess alcohol will travel through your bloodstream un-metabolised and unchanged. The concentration of alcohol in the blood will then increase.

In the process of alcohol travelling through your bloodstream, it will reach your brain where it acts as a sedative that slows your body down.

Although alcohol is a depressant, it also removes inhibitions, which explains the sometimes-happy-and-other-times-aggressive behaviour associated with drinking alcohol. It also increases the flow of fluid through your kidneys, increasing the likelihood of becoming dehydrated.

That’s what it does to your body when you’re not flying. Consuming alcohol on a plane aggravates the effect on your body.

What happens when you drink alcohol on board a plane?

During a flight, the barometric pressure in the cabin of a plane is lower than it is in most places on the ground. This decreased pressure diminishes the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and can produce light-headedness known as “hypoxia”.

If you drink too much on the plane, you might feel a more rapid and speedy hypoxia, this is caused by the lower level of oxygen in your blood. You might seem more drunk in the air than you would on the ground after consuming the same amount of alcohol.

But, in fact, your BAC will show the same percentage as would be the case if you drank the same amount on the ground under similar circumstances. A complicating factor is that the air in an aircraft is dry and, coupled with the diuretic effect of drinking alcohol, you might become dehydrated much faster than you would on the ground.

Perhaps a tip would be to have a bottle of water handy, to drink along in stages of your alcohol intake.

While you’re at it, rule out that myth that salty snacks, such as chips and nuts, make the intake more balanced. It doesn’t. They, in fact, enhance your thirst and makes you drink more and faster.