Answer to Question #9944 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
Has there been any research on the difference in the radiation exposure received when flying in different cabins (economy, business, or first class) of an aircraft? I love to travel in the first-class cabin, but I seem to get a headache on the Boeing 747 when sitting there. I have noticed, as well, that when traveling in the first-class cabin, I am underneath the pilots and all of their equipment. Could my headaches be caused by radiation?
The radiation we are exposed to when we fly is uniform throughout the airplane; that is, the passengers in all cabins, as well as the crew, receive the same radiation dose. This dose is from cosmic radiation, produced when energetic particles from all around our galaxy and to a lesser extent, from our own sun, interact with the earth’s atmosphere. The resulting x rays, neutrons, protons, electrons, muons, and pions have enough energy to penetrate the walls of the aircraft from all directions.
The radiation dose we receive as passengers on a commercial airplane is very low, about 3 to 5 microsieverts per hour (µSv h-1); see the Health Physics Society’s “frequently asked question” on dose from airline travel at http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/faqs/commercialflights.html. The recommended maximum for members of the public exposed to ionizing radiation is 1,000 µSv, so you would have to fly for 200 hours or more in a year to reach this limit. (Note that this is just a recommended limit, not a safety limit; you can exceed this limit without any effect on your health.) You can calculate the dose you might receive from air travel using the Federal Aviation Administration’s online calculator at http://jag.cami.jccbi.gov/cariprofile.asp.
So your headaches are not a response to radiation, whether cosmic radiation from space or radiofrequency radiation from the airplane’s instruments. A quick Internet search shows that there is a condition totally unrelated to radiation exposure called “airplane headache.” If you are concerned about this, you should check with your physician.
Linnea Wahl, CHP