These Are the Healthiest Planes in the Sky

May 7, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

When it comes to keeping passengers healthy, all planes aren’t created equal — at least according to the aviation experts we spoke to.

“We have a better understanding of what humans need to compensate for the fact that they’re flying at 30,000 feet above the surface of the Earth now,” said James Park, founder and principal partner of JPA Design, the London-based firm responsible for cabin redesigns for airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Hawaiian and Singapore. “And the fact that these things continue to get better is extraordinary.”

Park praised three aircraft types in particular: the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350.

James Park, founder of JPA Design.
James Park, founder of JPA Design.

The Air Pressure Is More Comfortable

This trio of aircraft types allow for higher cabin pressure. Typical passenger aircraft keep the cabin pressure at the equivalent of anywhere between 6,000 feet and 8,000 feet above sea level, or the elevation of Machu Picchu. Anywhere above 8,000 feet, passengers begin to feel the effects of altitude sickness and lack of oxygen, which could ultimately prove fatal.

The A380, 787 and A350, on the other hand, can keep a cabin pressure on the lower end of that spectrum, near 6,000 feet, or somewhere between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. For passengers in good health, that means they’ll generally be more comfortable. For those with certain conditions, especially involving the heart or lungs, it can mean preventing a potential medical emergency.

They’re More Humid (In a Good Way)

The use of composite materials also allows the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 to increase the humidity in the cabin, helping alleviate the notorious dehydrating effect of airplanes. Airplane cabins typically maintain a humidity of around 20%, or about half what most people consider comfortable. At lower humidities, skin and mucous membranes dry out, and flu viruses are both easier to catch and last longer. The 787 and A350 nudge the humidity up to approximately 25% — an incremental upgrade, to be sure, but an upgrade nonetheless. That’s because their composite-materials fuselages won’t rust like metal ones would under increased humidity.

The Lighting Is Better

Composite materials also allow for larger windows on the fuselage, providing a subtle boost to flyers’ feelings of well-being. Along with sophisticated lighting schemes that can mimic the natural cycle of a day — an increasingly popular tool in battling jet lag — the windows help people feel less like they’re trapped in a big tube hurtling through the sky.

The large window in a Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10 (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)
The large window in a Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10 (Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy)


And the extra light plays a critical biological role, too.

“The biggest impact lighting has is on fatigue, because light is primarily a time giver,” Jeffrey Sventek, executive director of the Aerospace Medical Association, told The Points Guy. “They help adjust circadian rhythms and tell the passenger when they must go to sleep.”

The Air Is Cleaner

All modern aircraft now use high-performance air filters to keep the cabin air smelling and feeling fresher, and to prevent germs and contaminants from cycling through, so that’s actually not necessarily a factor in determining which planes are the healthiest.

For the 787, however, Boeing switched away from a bleed-air system to electric compressors. In other words, fresh air is pumped directly from the outside into the cabin via a route that’s separate from the engines. In most of today’s planes, including Airbus’s A380 and A350, the cabin air is what’s called bleed air, taken from the engines’ compressors before it’s mixed with fuel and set aflame.

(Though some travelers and air crews have controversially claimed that bleed air has made them sick, the medical and scientific communities don’t believe, at least currently, that bleed air is a health hazard.)

It Can Be Blissfully Quiet

But when push comes to shove, Park does single one aircraft out, and it’s not one of the newest planes, like the nine-year-old Dreamliner or the five-year-old A350.

“The A380, despite being a four-engine plane, is actually quieter than many two-engines,” he said. “They’ve managed to deal with noise very effectively in that aircraft.”

Indeed, the 13-year-old Airbus double-decker is legendary for its silence, to the point that pilots actually complain that it’s too quiet to sleep aboard.

Long underappreciated when it came to health, scientists are finally looking into the effect noise has on almost every aspect of our lives, from the obvious — like our ability to concentrate or sleep on a flight — to the more surprising — like the fact that loud background noise alters our perceptions of the flavors of a meal.

But as good as the A380, 787 and A350 are, Park expects flying to only get healthier.

“The newer aircraft are clearly an improvement on the older planes, and as we move forward, all of these elements will continue to improve,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Mr. Sventek’s name.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.