Exercise on the Fly

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By Rebecca Adams
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

As I settle in for my flight, my seatmate pulls out a magazine. I pull out something else entirely: my very own airline-endorsed exercise equipment.

When the pilot says it's safe to move about the cabin, I take him seriously. I remove a resistance band and a small rubber ball from a pocket-sized kit and get to it.

As I step on the middle of the band and pull the ends back with both arms, the woman next to me says nothing. Five minutes earlier, she had been chatting nonstop, telling me about her trip, her husband, her frustrations with her job. Suddenly, she is very focused on her magazine. She does not acknowledge, even in the slightest way, that I am starting a series of knee lifts while seated in my window seat.

I catch a curious sideways glance from the fellow at the end of the row. I smile, place the ball between my knees, and lift my legs. He looks away nervously.

My workout routine may be unusual, but some officials for low-cost airlines Song and JetBlue hope the concept will take off. It's the latest twist on a move that started years ago with efforts to keep passengers from developing blood clots during flights. But now we're not just talking discreet ankle twirls, but chest presses (from Song) and liberal adaptations of yoga and Pilates (from JetBlue), all in the confines of your seat.

The primary motive is entertaining passengers, not reducing liability, insists JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin.

"It has nothing to do with liability concerns," said Baldwin. "We're always looking for something to make our flights more interesting for our passengers."

Song spokeswoman Katie Connell agrees that helping passengers avoid deep vein thrombosis, a rare but potentially deadly condition that can occur when blood clots form in the legs as a result of prolonged sitting, "was not our intended purpose in creating this. We see it as a good option for staying fit while on the road."

That may be a stretch, say some fitness experts. "To call them fitness programs is a little liberal," said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Exercise physiologist Michael Bracko, a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine, finds some benefit to the activity, but he questions its practicality.

"As a person who flies a lot, I would say it's often hard to move on planes," said Bracko. "I don't know how other airlines would be able to implement this unless [passengers] are doing it in the aisles. On a flight I took recently, I couldn't even cross my legs. How do airlines expect people to be able to do this?"

And then there's another question: Will people want to?

'Weirdo' Moves

Another motivation for the programs: generating publicity for new carriers like Song, an offshoot of Delta Airlines.


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© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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