09/13/2012 10:28 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Airplanes and Alcohol

On a recent flight that would last seven-and-a-half long hours, I thought hard about whether or not to have a glass of wine with lunch. I liked the idea that the wine could make me drowsy, easing me into a daytime nap, but also wanted to read my book and make the most of my awake time. In the end, I came up with a compromise -- I drank a small glass, had a short nap, and was still left with several hours of reading time.

But the truth is, alcohol can do strange things to you at 35,000 feet, so it's worth thinking through your decision about whether or not to throw back a cocktail or three. In a recent article in the New York Times titled "Frequent Airline Questions," a section about cocktails' potency at high altitudes reported that passengers are more prone to dehydration if they drink alcohol because the air inside a plane is much drier -- with a humidity level of 10 to 20 percent, compared to the typical indoor humidity level of 30 to 65 percent. The piece also mentioned that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the combination of dry cabin air and alcohol "may increase your chances of contracting a respiratory infection."

Still thinking about drinking while flying? "Alcohol decreases the ability of the brain to make use of oxygen," notes a pilot safety brochure from the Federal Aviation Administration, which can be exacerbated by high altitude. Add concerns about alcohol's impact on reaction time and judgement (emergency row anyone?) and the case against on-board drinking gets stronger.

Of course, if you really want that Scotch or glass of cabernet to unwind onboard, the advice seems to be hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I was once on a flight and a man who got up to use the lavatory fainted in the aisle. After the flight attendant administered some oxygen and a doctor on board asked a few questions, they concluded he was dehydrated -- and it seemed like they'd seen this scenario before. Passenger drinks alcohol, doesn't drink enough water, passes out.

It seems that if you do hydrate while flying, it's reasonable to have a drink or two or... participate in a wine tasting? On the "In Transit" blog on, a recent post announced Delta's new "Winemaker Series" for business travelers from L.A. to San Francisco. According to the post, the program will begin on September 1 and feature wines from a variety of California winemakers for two months stretches.

So I suppose the message is this: If you're going to consume alcohol on an airplane, drink lots of water before, during and after; don't sit in an emergency row and if you're doing a wine tasting in the friendly skies, perhaps you should ask for a bucket so you can sip and spit.