At one point, airlines were spooked enough by deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that there were "stretching" and "yoga" cards in airplane seat back pockets, and videos encouraging people to exercise in their seats mid-flight. Does anyone remember this? Since then, it seems airlines have become a lot less interested in our health and more interested in figuring out what random fees they can charge next.
But travel-induced blood clots (a.k.a. "economy class syndrome" because those in economy were more likely to be affected) are still a health issue, but recent research has found that it might be caused more by where you sit than what class you're sitting in. The culprit seems to be window seats; once ensconced, people who sit in them are less likely to get up as often as they should, concerned that they will disturb their seatmate.
And it's this lack of movement, not the lack of legroom, that results in those potentially fatal leg blood clots, according to a new study by the American College of Chest Physicians. (It's the reason long-haul drivers also experience DVT at higher rates than the regular population.)
What's a frequent flyer to do?
Naturally, one simple solution is for those in aisle seats to show common courtesy and expect to get up and down often, and not to entrap those sitting in window seats. We can't all have an aisle seat, obviously. But what if you actually prefer a window? I always choose a seat with a view, as I love to watch the sky and clouds, not to mention the always-interesting approaches into territory new-to-you (I'll never forget flying into Cairo, circling above the pyramids, which blew my mind. Pyramids!). But regardless of whether the window seat is an assignation or a choice, you shouldn't feel stuck there.
While I have zero problem with asking the person next to me to move, or even waking them up, it seems that this attitude isn't as common as it should be among the traveling public. Nobody should suffer a potentially life-threatening issue because they feel badly about asking someone to get up. This new information simply means that window-sitters need to advocate for themselves, and those folks in the aisle seats should be accommodating.
Honestly, in all my years of window-seat occupation, I've never had anyone get angry at me for requesting them to move so I could get up every hour or two (which is the recommendation from the doctors who published this study in the February 2012 medical journal CHEST). And remember, moving is good for everyone's body on a flight, so you are doing them a favor anyway. Just (politely) ask your seatmate to move whenever you need a bit of a stretch, no harm done.
And keep in mind that when the seatbelt sign is on during the flight — some unthinking pilots leave the lights on the whole flight, and many people think you're not allowed to get up — you can still walk around; this is simply an advisory, not a hard and fast rule (though it makes sense to stay put during turbulence and it is the rule to stay seated during takeoff and landing).
So whether you are specifically at risk for DVT, which includes those who have had a clot before, those with an abnormal coagulation system, a disability that restricts movement, the obese and those tackling active cancer, and can be a concern for those who are pregnant, have undergone recent surgery or trauma, take oral contraceptives and the elderly, or just a restless person like myself, get up at move around. You'll feel better when you arrive at your destination.