Memo to Airlines: Travelers Would Pay More to Avoid In-flight Back Pain

Airplane SeatsIn a survey conducted by SpineUniverse in the summer of 2008, 88% of people who had flown in North America in the last year reported that they had back or neck pain—or both—after a typical flight. Almost 90%. So in all likelihood, after your last flight, you felt the need to do a few bend-over-and-touch-your-toes stretches.

Is back pain just another price we pay for the privilege of flying at 35,000 feet?

But wait: what if there really was a price to pay? Are we willing to pay to make the flight more spine-friendly?

The people taking SpineUniverse's airplane survey are: When asked if they'd pay extra for seats with extra comfort for back and neck pain sufferers, 74% said yes. And then 75% of those people would be willing to pay up to $50 more; 20% would pay up to $100 more.

Read full back pain on airplanes survey results.

We pay for many other "comforts" on airplanes: food, drinks, pillows, blankets. On some airlines, you can pay extra and get more legroom. So the idea of paying a little more to get a seat that gives you support—not back pain—isn't all that ridiculous.

Think back to the last time you flew. Ok, think past the fee to check your bags, the long line to get through security, how you had to take off your shoes and walk through the metal detector in your socks with a hole in the toe. Think past the delay and struggling to fit your carry-on in the overhead compartment while a line of your fellow fliers fumed.

Just think about that airplane seat. The one you were squeezed into back in economy. The one that didn't recline quite as far as you'd like. The one you sat in for three hours thinking about how maybe it'd be better-—more comfortable—to sit on plywood covered in moldy carpet.

Airplane travel can be a real pain. We all know this. Today, with rising fuel prices and frustrations, flying can feel like an epic journey worthy of Odysseus. And a very expensive epic journey at that.

We're not trying to tell the airlines how to make more money (although considering how many have declared bankruptcy, they may appreciate the help). We're just pointing out that at a time when air travelers are feeling besieged by extra fees, an overwhelming majority of travelers with back and/or neck pain are willing to pay more—if the airplane seat was specifically designed with back and neck pain sufferers in mind.

So perhaps one day, we'll have a "healthy back" checkbox option when booking a plane ticket:

[ ] Yes, I'm willing to pay more to fly in a spine-friendly sky.

[ ] Please give me a seat with adjustable lumbar support, and/or

[ ] Please give me a seat with an adjustable headrest

Let's face it, though: that new seat isn't likely to make its debut any time soon. All of us with back and/or neck pain—or people who've developed a bout of back or neck pain thanks to an airplane seat—will have to fend for ourselves in the meantime (seems to be a theme of air travel).

In-flight Back Pain Prevention Tips from an Ergonomics Expert

Alan Hedge, PhD, CPE, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University has a few tips to avoid back pain or neck pain while flying. "Even if airlines don't start using seats designed specifically for back and neck pain sufferers, there are some easy ways you can take care of your back and neck on a flight.

"If you are a neck pain sufferer, you can bring an inflatable air pillow with you. It won't take up much room in your carry-on-especially important in air travel today-and it will provide good support for your head and neck while flying."

"For back pain sufferers, try rolling a pillow, blanket, or sweater into a lower back support. It's best if you can have one support on each side of your back. You may also want to try the BackJoy, a small seat orthotic that works really well."

Follow those easy tips, and maybe flying won't be so painful—for your back and neck

We can't make any promises about airplanes getting new seats or airlines lowering their fares or airports putting more chairs in the gate area.

But we can help you take care of your back and neck while flying.


Updated on: 09/01/15
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