There’s strong anecdotal evidence that people who don’t normally drink the champagne-colored beverage are more likely to do so in-flight. If there’s something about being on a plane that prompts you to snag a ginger ale from the beverage cart, you’re not alone.
Cartoonist Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal deemed the golden soda “magic sky juice” in a comic espousing his preference for it when flying, and a Reddit thread asking, “Do you order ginger ale on planes, but not on the ground?” received nearly 200 comments. In a 2010 interview with Chowhound, veteran flight attendant and airline expert Rob Gallagher confirmed, “Fliers really do seek out ginger ale as an in-flight beverage.”
Some say the drink’s “real ginger” component helps soothe tummy troubles — whether caused by travel-induced anxiety or motion sickness — but Sherry Ross, M.D., of Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, believes there’s a simpler explanation.
“It’s not the ginger providing the relief,” says Ross, adding that there’s really not much of it in ginger ale to begin with. More likely, the carbonation and sugar are the real culprits behind our ease after downing a can of Canada Dry. But if that’s the case, why not order a cola or lemon-lime soda?
“You’re buying into the power of suggestion,” says Ross. “We’ve learned from our mothers and grandmothers, who brought us ginger ale and chicken-noodle soup when we were sick as kids, that ginger ale works.”
The theory, that ginger ale is a placebo that’s “equally as helpful as chewing on ginger root,” also helps explain another popular yet unusual drink choice on planes: tomato juice.
“Tomato soup is another old remedy that your mom used to bring to you on the TV tray,” says Ross. “There’s something very comforting about it. Those types of foods have powerful messaging to our brains and that alone makes us feel better.”
If you’re someone who is sensitive to air travel, Ross recommends packing more effective solutions, such as ginger root tea or ginger lozenges, in your carry-on: “The more prepared you are, the less worries you are going to have.”
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