Two Science-Backed Reasons to Order Ginger Ale on a Flight

Two Science-Backed Reasons to Order Ginger Ale on a Flight

For most people, sipping on a beverage during a flight is a non-negotiable. One drink in particular has garnered a fair amount of attention online, both for its alleged health benefits and improved taste while in the air: ginger ale.

“I would not be surprised if 80% of all ginger ale was consumed on airplanes,” one TikTok creator joked in a video. “The only correct times to drink ginger ale are when you’re on a plane, when you want to make an easy cocktail, or when you’ve been throwing up.”

Across social media platforms, people largely seem to be in agreement.

“I only drink ginger ale when I fly,” one Reddit user wrote. “Our taste buds work differently when we are in the air so our preferences will change while we are up there.”

Ginger ale is hailed for its superior taste while in the air, and ability to soothe any flight-related stomach issues. And though the claims may seem like urban legend, experts say there’s actually some truth behind them.

Here’s why you might find yourself reaching for a ginger ale during a flight and how the beverage affects your health.

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People may only order ginger ale on planes because they feel like the drink tastes better while they’re flying. It’s not in your head—the flavor profile of ginger ale does actually change while you’re in the air.

This has to do with the way that air travel affects the tastebuds, explained Andrea Burdack-Freitag, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany. She and her colleagues researched the subject back in 2011, and found that while on an airplane, food and drinks taste how they would if you had a cold.

“The altered low pressure in the passenger cabin under flight conditions changes the oxygen saturation the blood,” Burdack-Freitag told Health. “As a result, some of the olfactory and taste receptors become less efficient.”

This low pressure can make receptors for salty, sweet, and citrusy flavors less efficient, she explained, while those for bitter, sour, and earthy tastes are less impacted.

In addition to the low pressure, low humidity in the cabin can also play a role in the way things taste, Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, adjunct professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, told Health.

“Dry air makes it more difficult to distinguish flavors,” she said. “Our sense of smell reduces, which affects the way we taste our food.”

Because of the way the plane environment affects our bodies, more salt and sugar has to be added to foods and desserts served on planes, Burdack-Freitag said.

But foods and drinks that are already packaged, or that can’t be adjusted, will taste slightly different.

Coffee is more bitter in flight than on the ground, white wines tend to be too acidic,” Burdack-Freitag said. “Light dishes such as fish dishes or light sauces are described as being too tasteless.”

With your taste buds struggling to get the full sugary flavor, ginger ale can take on a crisp, dry flavor that you won’t experience on land.

Beyond changes in your taste buds, other external factors could also impact the way your beverage tastes. Things such as ambient noise, smells on the plane, stress level, or lighting might change your experience.

The container you’re drinking your ginger ale out of—bottle, plastic cup, or something else—might make a difference, too, added Deborah Cohen, DCN, an associate professor of clinical and preventive nutritional sciences at Rutgers University School of Health Professions.

In addition to its taste, many people request ginger ale on flights to help settle their stomachs or avoid nausea from motion sickness.

Ginger has been used to treat nausea and vomiting for centuries, and it can be helpful for some people who get motion sickness, Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told Health.

“The problem is that most ginger ale is not made with real ginger,” he said. Instead, it’s usually made with ginger essence, sugar, and other flavorings.

But that doesn’t mean the soda can’t help with nausea.

“It can help with an upset stomach and nausea when you have it in small sips,” Bedford explained.

When people “[expel] the carbonation” either by burping or farting, that can sometimes provide some stomach relief, he said.

If you’re interested in trying ginger ale to relieve symptoms of motion sickness, Bedford recommends taking it slow and seeing how you feel.

Ginger ale mid-flight might taste delicious or help soothe your stomach, but it’s important to remember that it’s still soda, experts said.

“Ginger ale is high in sugar,” Cohen told Health, noting that it contains around 33 grams of sugar per 12-ounce can.

To avoid this, people can try a diet ginger ale soda as an alternative, she recommended. But in general, staying away from soda altogether is always a healthier choice.

“It is best to stick to water for the best hydration while in the air,” said Cohen. “Dehydration is a concern when flying, and it’s generally recommended that we drink plenty of water in flight.”

But if ginger ale is your go-to drink on an airplane—whether because of its flavor or anti-nausea effects—there’s little harm in enjoying it every now and again.

“Drinking one can of ginger ale on a flight is not a big deal,” Cohen said.

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