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Flying High For The Holidays?
Protect Your Voice In The Air ...

November 17, 2016

By Ann Utterback
Voice Specialist and Author, Broadcast Voice Handbook

If you’re flying this Thanksgiving weekend or any time over the holidays, you might want to think about your voice.

Why?  Let me explain.

We all know the air on planes is dry, but to say that "spending a few hours on a plane is like breathing desert air" is giving air travel a good name.

Most deserts have a humidity range of 20 to 25 percent. Airplane humidity has the amazingly dry level of 5 to 10 percent. And airline companies have no desire to make planes more humid because of the increased weight, which means added expense as well as the risk of mold growth in the small, enclosed cabin of an airplane.


Breathing this dry, re-circulated air is a special threat for your voice.

And even a short flight for as little as two hours can wreak havoc on your throat because on a plane you lose eight ounces of water by skin evaporation every hour.

This means when you fly from New York to L.A. you will lose 40 ounces of water through your skin alone. That’s as much as running an hour in 90-degree heat!


So what can you do to avoid this trap?

1. Drink early (water!)

First, drink lots of water to combat the dehydration. You should begin increasing your water intake several days before your flight. And on the plane, drink at least eight ounces every hour. 

There are lots of fun apps like MyFitnessPal for the iPhone or iPad to track water intake.

2. Try nasal spray

Another thing you might want to try is a non-medicinal saline nasal spray to help keep your nose and throat moistened. These are sold over the counter, and can provide a soothing relief for nose and throat.

3. Bring disposable wipes

And remember that planes are notorious germ carriers. I generally take a disposable wipe like Wet Ones to do a quick cleaning of the airline seat arm rests, seat belt clasp, and the tray table. 

It might seem embarrassing to do that, but a cold or the flu can knock out your on-air work for a week or more.

Unfortunately, travel challenges to your vocal health do not end when you leave the airport. You may have unhealthy air in your hotel room and other public places such as stores when you’re shopping on Black Friday. 


To calculate how much water to drink, I use the ratio devised by the International Sportsmedicine Institute. Their formula has been used for over three decades. 

You need one-half ounce of water per pound of body weight. Simply divide your body weight by one-half to gauge your daily water needs. Nutrition
offers a calculator that takes into account other factors when figuring how much to drink. This is especially helpful if you live in a dry climate or have other factors that affect your hydration. 

These guidelines are for healthy adults who exercise. If you have any medical conditions that might be affected by a potassium-sodium imbalance, you should get your doctor’s advice on fluid consumption.

Continue drinking the water your body needs and use the saline spray to moisturize your nose and throat. You’ll feel better and have a healthier throat!
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D., is a voice specialist with more than 40 years experience and has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices, working with broadcasters, voice over artists and podcasters around the world. An author of eight books and over 50 articles on voice, her Broadcast Voice Handbook is a classic textbook offering more advice on how to improve your voice over performance.

Click for: Broadcast Voice Handbook

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Comments (4)
Bobbin Beam
11/18/2016 at 10:35 AM
I always knew airplane air was dry, but drier than the desert caught me by surprise. I'm a water fiend anyway, but knowing exactly how much the body needs and also loses during flight was helpful. And having some cleaning/anti bacterial wipes is a great idea. Thanks Ann.
Vernon Kuehn
11/17/2016 at 2:39 PM
I can look at Ann Utterback's abbreviated bio and see that she is not all that far behind me in chronology. But missing from her reasonably well thought out advice is a caveat or special advice for seniors. Maybe this observation has not "come home to rest" for her yet, but we who in the group known as seniors have some news for you: As we age apparently our bladders loose some elasticity, and that little retaining-valve mechanism gets a bit cranky. I'm sorry but when I fly these days, I have to HIDE from liquids and beverages lest the calls of nature come knocking just as the "Please Remain Seated Until we are safely on the ground and we come to a complete stop" message comes out of the ceiling. Other than depends, any options to suggest? :-)
Ann Utterback
11/17/2016 at 2:10 PM
Thanks! I've learned these things through sometimes painful experience :-\ Glad I can pass them on to others.
Elizabeth Holmes
11/17/2016 at 12:51 PM
You're my HERO, Ann! Thank you for these excellent tips.
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