Sleeping pills for a flight? Don’t take them too early

by Janice Hough on August 20, 2009

red eye
While Australia might be the trip of a lifetime, the fourteen-plus hour flight from the west coast of the U.S. to Sydney might be one of the most dreaded in aviation. Even in business class, and especially in economy.

One of my co-worker’s clients actually had an upgraded business class seat booked directly with United, but he nonetheless decided to take a sleeping pill to help him make it through the flight.

So he took the pill just before he took a taxi to the airport, figuring he could fall asleep soon after take-off, get a full night’s sleep, and wake up refreshed for the day upon arrival. The best laid plans…

The pill worked. Too well. And he fell sound asleep in the boarding area. Apparently a United gate agent saw him asleep and woke him up just before final boarding. But he was so sound asleep that he stumbled and fell upon being awakened, and was very groggy and disoriented.

So he would have just barely made the plane, but the United gate staff decided he did not look healthy, and certainly not in good enough shape to board. Which makes a certain amount of sense. It’s not just worries about things like swine flu, but no airline wants to fly with a passenger who looks to be a potential health emergency. Especially on a long international flight.

In this case, the end result could have been worse. United was able to remove his luggage from the plane, and they rebooked him on the same flight the following day. He wasn’t meeting a cruise or an organized tour, so all he lost was a prepaid hotel night. So on the whole meant he got off relatively easily.

But had he missed a boat, for example, it could have been a complete nightmare. In general, if you are taking any medication, it’s best to see how you react to it BEFORE you travel. And it’s best to take a sleeping pill when you are safely in your airplane seat.

photo by John and Keturah on Flickr

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  • Matthew in NYC

    I actively discourage people from taking sleeping pills for flights. Almost all those plane rage incidents in premiums classes are from a bad mix of pills and liquor. If you’re going to drink, don’t medicate. If you’re going to medicate, don’t drink. If you’ve never taken the medication before, trying it on a plane is generally a bad idea because you don’t know how you’ll react in the planes pressurized, oxygen poor environment.

  • SirWired

    Well, kudos to United here. While it was just a sleeping pill, United did the right thing in not letting him board… that’s a looooonnnnngggg flight over a whole lot of ‘nuthin for some poor flight attendant to discover it was more than a sleeping pill.

    I am pleasantly surprised that United booked him on the next days flight without hassle or fee. I guess that is the reasonable thing to do, but it’s a sad commentary that I find it surprising that the airline chose to do the right thing, since they seem to do the wrong things so often.

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  • goingaway

    Actually, you should not take the pill until wheels are safely up and the flight commenced. Just because you are in a seat, does not mean the flight is a go by any means.

  • Ron

    If this gentleman was that groggy, it was best United didn’t put him on the plane. What if there was an emergency and this guy had to evacuate the plane? If he was incapable of maneuvering the tricky walk from the seating area to the jetway, how would he have handled the chaos of an emergency evacuation?

  • WPM

    I took the pills too early once and got bumped from my flight. In all the excitement of getting a $600 voucher, upgraded to first class the following day and a free hotel room that night in Palm Springs, I forgot I took the pill and spent the rest of the day walking through paradise like a zombie. ;-)

  • Kelly

    I once took a sleeping pill right after take off for a long flight to Asia. Unfortunately the plane made an unexpected stop in Alaska due to weather and everyone had to get off the plane. My two friends were barely able to drag me off the plane and deposit me on the terminal floor where I slept blissfully face down until it was time to drag me back on! Luckily the only thing I lost was my dignity (yes, they did take pictures) but I still had my money and passport!

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