ON THE SPOT

by catharine hamm

Puffy and huffy: When I fly, my ankles and feet swell up like balloons. I keep my shoes off and even curl my legs under me so they are not dangling. My doctors tell me I should walk around the aircraft, but security rules make that difficult. On a flight to and from Buenos Aires, I had to ask just to go to the bathroom. How can I continue to fly without having swollen feet?

— Linda Mowry

Culver City

Answer: Easy. By flying only to places that are within an hour or so of Los Angeles.

For Mowry and others who love to travel, that's not very practical advice. But the realities of flying today also make it more difficult to address the issues that the realities of flying today create.

If you're sitting still, you're more apt to develop "airplane ankles" because blood will pool in your lower extremities. The way to reverse that is by moving around, which forces the blood back up to where it's supposed to be. Getting up, however, could be your ticket to trouble. Since Sept. 11, on-board security has become a delicate balancing act between passengers' rights and comfort and the need to ensure safety.

I asked Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, about Mowry's assertion that she couldn't get up. Here's his e-mail response:

"There is no security requirement for passengers to remain seated at all times. Passengers can wait in line at lavatories other than the front lav.

"Often times, for shorter flights, captains will keep the seat belt sign on because there is little need to stretch one's legs, but if someone has a medical condition, they should not be stopped for any security purpose unless an incident is occurring."

This sounds good in theory, but the reality is that you're often not free to move about the cabin. Beverage service, turbulence and control-freak flight attendants all can keep you in your place.

What's a poor passenger to do? Dr. Terri Rock and Dr. Vic Kovner, both Southern California physicians who are experts on health and travel, make these suggestions:

Forget fashion. Don't wear tight jeans or, God forbid, a girdle. Wear loose-fitting clothing and consider — shudder — low-compression stockings. With luck, you'll never see your fellow passengers again so they probably won't rat you out to the fashion police.

Don't spend your pre-boarding time sitting down. Walk the concourse.

If, by some miracle, you can stretch out on the flight, do so. But do not tuck your legs under you, which tends to crimp veins.

Drink plenty of water. Besides keeping you hydrated, it gives you a reason to walk, if only to the lavatory. If the seat-belt sign is on, summon the flight attendant and try to get the in-flight equivalent of a hall pass.

Exercise in your seat. Push the ball of your foot on the floor to constrict the calf muscles. Or, Rock says, use your feet to write each letter of the alphabet in the air.

Better yet, write great opening lines of novels. For some reason, Dickens' "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... " and Thomas Pynchon's "A screaming comes across the sky" leaps to mind.

Have a travel dilemma? E-mail travel@latimes.com