Ear Pain during flying - Is it negligence ?

But if you continue with that, you wind up with the old “If ‘black’ boxes are designed to withstand a crash, why don’t they build the whole aircraft out of the same stuff?” question.

I don’t think there are any regulations regarding passenger comfort; only regulations for safety. I think the FAA and the Airlines are more concerned about getting the passenger to his destination alive than in comfort. Still, there is no reason that a descent from 8,000 feet cabin altitude should be painful unless the passenger has a temporary or permanent abnormality.

It does not prove it is a common problem, it proves that most people you talk to experience ear discomfort sometime or another. I experience “discomfort” sometimes too, but never pain. And it is never enough to prevent me from flying. So, it is not a problem for me.

No, it is the airline’s job to make money. Often that means making the flying experience as comfortable as possible. That does not mean making the experience discomfort free. If it becomes too uncomfortable for you, I suggest you explore other traveling options. Exercise your capitalistic rights.

I doubt it is possible to do a study on whether something is “uncomfortable.” It varies so much from person to person.

What makes you think there is no published data? The military has done hundreds of studies on the effects of varying cabin pressure. That is where the 8,000 foot cabin requirement for airliners came from.

Geeze, people were just trying to help you out by giving you suggestions. It is sounding more and more like you are trying to “get” the airlines, rather than actually flying in comfort.

They could improve the system, but only by making airliners slower, more expensive, and not able to travel as far.

I’ve always wondered about La Paz, Bolivia. They must slowly DE-pressurize the plane as they approach it. Depending on your sources, the La Paz airport is at 12000 or 13000 feet, significantly higher than 8000 in any case. Seems to me that flying into La Paz from somewhere around sea level would be a dandy recipe for altitude sickness.

I think you’re overstating the problem vis a vis how many people experience pain. Most people have very little discomfort. Your survey of “people you know” is either turning up a biased sample, or people are overstating their frequency of their ear pain.

I sometimes experience severe pain when I fly, and my ear doesn’t recover for up to three days (I can’t hear because of fluid). However, it is not the airline’s responsiblity to alter things so that we rare cases with lousy ear anatomy can fly comfortably. It is up to me (us) to do what we can, or choose not to fly.

Empirical evidence. Chewing gum has been shown over and over by thousands (millions?) of fliers to help equalize pressures by “working” the eustacian tube.

I used to do the same thing. I remember on one dual cross country flight, I was headed for my destination airport at 5500 feet. Well, I miscalculated my ETA, and ended up right over the airport, still at 5500 feet. I flew on by a little ways, pulled the power off and the carb heat on, rolled into a 45 degree bank and pitched for 174mph. The VSI only goes up to 2000fpm, but I am pretty sure we lost that extra 4000 feet in less than a minute. I would say a lot less. No ear trouble for me, my cfi, or my passenger.

I have been in MTSUs Aerospace program for two years, and have never met anyone or heard of anyone who has had ear trouble. This could mean that:

A: People who have ear trouble choose not to be pilots;


B: People with ear trouble soon learn to adapt after they start flying every day.

I don’t think 12k is high enough to cause a bad case of hypoxia. By the time you reach that elevation, you’ve probably adjusted to it.

Doesn’t really prove anything. Most of the people I talk to never have ear discomfort.

People who are over 6 feet tall are often uncomfortable on airplanes. We accept this as a drawback to being tall or having long legs. I don’t expect the airlines to retrofit all their airplanes to accomodate a relatively small percent of the population. By the same token, I don’t see them accomodating the relatively small percentage of people who suffer from ear discomfort.

The military has been doing training using Hypobaric chambers for years. You can be assured that there are massive amounts of published data regarding air pressure and humans.

The captain will know this and would be happy to provide it for you. Or simply call the airline. The last thing they want is for their passengers to be uncomfortable. It’s bad for business.

There is very little they can do. Pressurizing the airplane to sea level would be almost impossible. Consider the following:

At sea level, the pressure is 14.7 pounds per square inch. At 30000 feet, the air pressure is 4.3 psi. A cabin level of 8000 feet gives us 10.7 psi.

We will assume that you are flying on a Boeing 737, a very popular airliner. This aircrafts pressurized surface area will be (very) roughly 500,000 square inches.

At 30000 feet with an 8000 foot cabin pressure, that airframe is resisting a 6.4psi differential, for a total of 3.2 MILLION pounds.

If you were to pressurize that same airplanes cabin to sea level while the airplane was at 30000 feet, it would be a 10.4psi differential. Now you are looking at 5.2 MILLION pounds. Where is all that extra strength going to come from?

Weight. Fuel. Size and aerodynamic resistance. Your pocket. It simply isn’t practical to keep 14.7psi in the cabin at all times. All they can do is make thee pressure change as gradual as possible.

If anyone thought the airlines were negligent in that way, they would have sued their butts off years ago.


I’ve had agonizing ear pain on approaches in the past. There is a plug called Ear-Planes that has a valve mechanism that adjusts the rate of pressure change in the ear. You put them in when you are taking off, you can either leave them in for the flight or take them out, then put them back in for the approach. Works great! I’ve had pain so bad in the past that I thought I was going to either go deaf, pass out, or both. Since I started using the plugs I haven’t had a problem…



Your passenger? :eek: I’ll bet he probably falls asleep on roller coasters nowadays. :smiley:

There is tons of published information on the effects of air pressure changes on the human body. Just spend some time with google, and you’ll find quite a bit of stuff. That stuff is really only the tip of the iceberg, since published does not equal “available on the web”. Try going to the engineering/science library of a university with an areospace engineering program, and you’ll see what I mean.

The FAA looked at all this data, and drew up regulations based on margins of safety and other concerns to come to the 8,000 foot pressurization number. The airlines and the aircraft manufacturers comply with that number.

Here are the FAA’s regulations:

And the cabin pressurization regulations are here:

Though the altitude isn’t what’s bothering andy_fl, it’s the change in pressure. The vast majority of passengers just adjust, either unconsciously or by chewing gum, yawning, etc.

I can’t see how you could possibly avoid the pressure change, however. If you were flying from SFO to LAX, you could get away with pressurizing the cabin to 1 atmosphere and never have a pressure change (assuming a plane built like a tank) but if you were flying from Denver to L.A., where would you re-pressurize the cabin? You’d still have the same problems as you would now.

I’d like to second what The_Raven said about Ear Planes. I suffer from intense (hurt for a week) pain from air travel. Those gizmos make you look like a dork, but they save you from a lot of pain.

It was his first small airplane ride, and he had been begging for something like that since we took off.

(Just so you you that I am not one of those jerks who talks a nervous person into a small airplane ride, and then shows them a few power-on stalls)