Anabella Murillo

Turns out a lot of people fly either for business or pleasure, sometimes both. I travel more for business than for pleasure, however my goal is to travel for pleasure as much as I travel now for business. When travel I look forward to sit down on my seat. Why? Because sitting down could mean two things: either I fall asleep or I drink wine (and fall asleep later). Which brings me to the subject of my post. I have to warn you about drinking wine while flying.

Even though it sounds exciting it can get “complicated”. When we fly, our body is exposed to changes we may not feel or see. We fly in pressured cabins, temperatures are low for a reason, we are exposed to tons of germs and our body tends to dehydrate faster. It’s not a secret to anyone that when we drink alcohol we dehydrate.

I learned the lesson the bad way. In 2011 I was based in NYC and working for a company that choose 20 employees and flew them to South Africa for a “leadership employee boot camp”. It was more like a crazy detox boot camp, but I will save that story for another occasion.

My flight was from JFK to Johannesburg, meaning I was taking a 15 hour flight… straight… nonstop. I must confess I felt anxious as I had never spend so much time in a flight before. The first thing I thought: what will I do during 15 hours? I can sleep, watch movies, eat and then what?

During all my precautionary measures taken before my trip, calling my dad (he’s a doctor) was on the list since I needed some advice on vaccines in order to travel. His advice?  “Do not drink wine, drink tons of water, move your feet every two hours and make sure you drink enough water so you’re obliged to stand up and walk to the restroom”. I was not happy with his advice but somehow I planned to apply it.

I had an aisle seat (just in case I followed my dad’s advice and I wouldn’t bother my neighbor every hour to go to the restroom). Turns out my neighbor was a South African old man. It was a noon-night-morning flight so we got lunch, dinner and breakfast. This poor man was not prepared to be seated next to a Venezuelan girl asking wine questions like crazy in her imperfect English. Guess what? That’s exactly what I did.

To my surprise, he was happy to guide me. We shared stories and of course tried my first South African wine. He actually gave me wine lessons. I remember trying a wine I had never tasted before. It was a Pinotage. How many of you have tried this wine? I was a first timer. He explained it was a grape from his country, created after the combination of Pinot noir y Cinsaut (known as Hermitage at that time, hence, the name). There I was, receiving a free lesson on Pinotage on my way to South Africa. How lucky was I to share a seat next to a ZA old man who happens to know about wine? Jackpot!

We spoke for hours, I even took notes. He told me what to do in Cape Town, where to eat, tips on my safari and of course, Stellenbosch, a famous wine region in ZA that I had plans to visit. Hours passed, 1 Pinotage bottle later, pages with notes on what to do in ZA and no water whatsoever. I started thinking on my dad’s advice. Was it too late now?

Finally landed at Johannesburg around 8:00 am local time, met with two Venezuelan friends and we all took the same flight to Cape Town. I was so ready to taste all kinds of ZA wines. We went to the hotel, checked in and went upstairs. We needed a shower. Then we headed out to explore the magic city. I was taking my shoes off when I noticed something that freaked me out. I had no ankles. Literally, no ankles, gone. My toes and legs were so swollen I didn’t recognized them. I got scared and looked for bruises in my legs. I showed my –no-ankle feet to my friends and they were surprised as well. I started thinking why my feet were so swollen…and then I remembered my dad’s advice.

I had no water, just wine. Never made the exercises he mentioned. The only thing I did was walk a couple of times to the restroom. I got nervous, there I was with swollen feet at a city I didn’t know and had no idea of where the nearest hospital was. I took a shower with cold water and kept my feet high for hours. We went out and I walked a couple of hours. 24 hours later I was lucky enough to have my feet back.

I learned the lesson, the hard way, believe me. My flight back to JFK was different. I bought pressure socks, drank plenty of water and slept the entire flight back. I was exhausted from my three weeks adventures in South Africa. Landed in NYC with perfect feet and ready to have some wine with friends and tell them all the stories of my South African adventure.

Now, I can’t go without leaving you some tips while flying…and drinking:

For every glass of wine, drink one glass of water. This applies whether you are flying or not. Believe me, it will change your life.

  1. Move your ankles every 30 minutes if you are on short flights, or every hour for long flights.
  2. When safe to do so, stand up, walk down the aisle and back to your seat.
  3. Go to the restroom.
  4. You are drinking at 35,000 feet of altitude, hence, the effects of alcohol may be stronger or you may notice it sooner. Also you may feel dizzy or with a headache, remember flying means less oxygen gets to the brain.


Better be safe than sorry!