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What happens when you pass out on a plane?

Flying on a plane can be an exciting experience for many, but it can also present certain challenges and risks to our health. One of the most common medical crises that occur on planes is fainting. It can be a frightening and alarming situation for both the person experiencing it and those around them. In this blog post, we will explore what happens when someone passes out on a plane, including its causes, symptoms, immediate actions to take, medical assistance available, and preventive measures for future incidents.

Causes of Fainting on a Plane

There are several reasons why someone may faint while on a plane. Here are the most common causes:

Lack of oxygen due to air cabin pressure

When flying at high altitudes, the air pressure in the cabin decreases. This decrease in pressure can result in a reduction of oxygen levels, leading to a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and eventually lead to fainting.

Standing up too fast after sitting for a long time

Sitting in an upright position for an extended period can cause blood to pool in the lower extremities, reducing blood flow to the brain. When someone stands up suddenly after sitting for a long time, it can result in a sudden drop in blood pressure, leading to fainting.


Airplane cabins have low humidity levels, which can cause dehydration during long flights. Dehydration affects the body’s ability to maintain stable blood pressure and can contribute to dizziness and fainting episodes.

Vasovagal Syncope

Vasovagal syncope is a common cause of fainting and occurs when the body overreacts to certain triggers, such as fear, pain, or emotional distress. It can be triggered by the stress of flying, anxiety about flying, or even the sight of blood or medical procedures.

Symptoms and Signs of Fainting on a Plane

Recognizing the early symptoms and signs of fainting can help in responding quickly and appropriately. Some common indicators of an impending fainting episode include:

Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

People who are about to faint often experience a sensation of lightheadedness or dizziness. This can be accompanied by a feeling of unsteadiness or imbalance.

Blurred vision

Blurred vision is another warning sign that someone may faint. Vision may become unclear or have dark spots, making it difficult to see clearly.

Nausea or vomiting

Fainting can also be accompanied by feelings of nausea or even vomiting. This can be due to the body’s autonomic response to the blood pressure drop.

Pale complexion

A sudden loss of blood flow to the brain can cause the skin to appear pale or have a grayish complexion.


Excessive sweating or cold, clammy skin can be a sign that someone is about to faint. The body tries to regulate its temperature in response to the impending episode.

Immediate Actions to Take When Someone Faints on a Plane

If you witness someone fainting on a plane, it is crucial to respond quickly and appropriately. Here are immediate actions to take:

Alerting flight attendants

The first step is to inform a flight attendant about the situation. They are trained in emergency response and can provide assistance.

Laying the person down on the floor or in a reclined seat

If possible, gently lower the person to the floor or lay them back in a reclined seat. This helps to improve blood flow to the brain.

Elevating the person’s legs

Elevating the person’s legs slightly above the level of their heart can help improve blood circulation and prevent further complications.

Loosening tight clothing

If the person is wearing tight clothing, such as a belt or tie, loosen or remove them to improve circulation.

Ensuring proper air circulation

Opening the air vents and maintaining proper air circulation can help provide a fresh supply of oxygen.

Medical Assistance and Treatment Options on a Plane

In more severe cases, medical assistance may be required. Airplanes are equipped with basic medical supplies and may have a medical professional on board. Here are some options for medical assistance and treatment:

Flight attendants contacting a medical professional on board

Some flights have medical professionals, such as doctors or nurses, traveling as passengers. Flight attendants can reach out to them for assistance and guidance.

Utilizing available medical equipment and supplies

Airplanes are usually equipped with basic medical supplies, such as first aid kits and automated external defibrillators (AEDs). These supplies can be used to manage the situation until further help arrives.

Administering oxygen if available

If oxygen is available on the flight, it can be administered to the person experiencing the fainting episode. Oxygen can help restore oxygen levels in the blood, potentially preventing further complications.

Possible diversion or emergency landing

In critical cases, the pilot may decide to divert the plane and make an emergency landing to ensure the person receives prompt medical attention.

Preventive Measures for Future Episodes of Fainting on a Plane

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate the risk of fainting on a plane, there are steps individuals can take to reduce the likelihood of future episodes. Here are some preventive measures:

Staying hydrated before and during the flight

Drinking plenty of fluids before and during the flight can help combat dehydration and maintain stable blood pressure levels.

Performing regular stretching exercises or walking around the cabin

Performing simple stretching exercises or taking short walks around the cabin can help improve blood circulation and prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities.

Avoiding sudden changes in body position

When seated for an extended period of time, it is important to avoid sudden changes in body position. Slowly stand up and allow the body to adjust before moving around.

Awareness of personal medical conditions that may contribute to fainting

Individuals with specific medical conditions, such as low blood pressure or heart conditions, should be aware of how these conditions can increase the risk of fainting. They should consult with their healthcare provider before flying and take necessary precautions.


Fainting on a plane can be a frightening experience, but understanding the causes, symptoms, and immediate actions to take can help mitigate the situation. It is important to stay alert and responsive when someone experiences a fainting episode. Taking preventive measures such as staying hydrated, moving around, and being aware of personal medical conditions can reduce the risk of future incidents. Remember, the safety and well-being of passengers should always be the priority, and seeking appropriate medical assistance is crucial in managing such situations.


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