2018 Tian Shan
August-September 2018 travel to Kazakhstan reviewed in 2021
Commentary from 2021
This post from 19.08.2018 was a tad more nerdy and this comment from 2021 is going to go deep into nerdiness. My phone from back then had a barometer (God knows for what reason), which was a useless gimmick, but it did provide some actual five minutes of nerdy interest. First of all, it explained nicely why your ears in the plane hurt. Second of all, it allowed me to export its readings to Excel when I finished my travel, it gave birth to the graph below, where pressure lines aligned with where I was in the travel based on altitude.
As you can see, the two sharp lines at start and end were not related to altitude, but to cabin pressure. The second one is more narrow due to phone having been switched off to part of the flight, most likely to conserve battery. The unstable graph between Astana and Almaty is fluctuating because I took a train, which took some 24hrs each way, so graph adapted based on where the train was.
As for the plane, to explain it quickly: planes lower cabin pressure from sea-level 1000 hPa to 775 hPa to decrease tensions between cabin and outside environment that has some 250 hPa (lower than on top of the Everest). The 775 hPa pressure corresponds to seen on some 2000 metres altitude. It was decided by avionics companies that this is the lowest they can go that most passengers can sustain without experiencing discomfort, let alone altitude sickness. Of course, that pressure drops and rises rapidly (15-20 minutes), but those of you that are afraid of flying – you need to understand that the stressful feeling is due to this, and it is safe, accept it. It happens every time, planned and for a reason, and is not dangerous.
Meteoropathy or weather pains
This also gave me an extra thought about meteoropathy, also called weather pains. Why are people in Poland always (ALWAYS) complaining if pressure drops from natural meteorological highs of 1020 hPa to average lows of 990? Many of them complain that low pressure makes them sleepy, give them low mood or that their head hurts. I am not like that. But even my girlfriend, who came to Poland last year from a meteorologically stable country, complained at times about this without knowing it, so it must be an actual proven thing with hard evidence for people to react to low pressure. But to me it makes no sense. That is a 3% drop of pressure over hours, in the plane I took a 24% drop in pressure over 15 minutes and felt nothing other than 10 minutes mild dizzyness. To this day, in 2021, I do not know the answer to this, but I also did not consider it important enough to research it well.
Original blog post link: https://2018tianshan.tumblr.com/post/177169014166/why-my-ears-hurt-in-a-plane
Original post from 19.08.2018 is copied below.
Why my ears hurt in a plane?
They hurt because pressure inside changes, obviously, that much we all know. How much, though?
For some reason, modern smartphones are sometimes equipped with a pressure sensor and I have one like that. I was told cabin pressure during normal flights drops from the normal 1010 hPA to one that is normally seen on 2000 metres above sea level altitude – and it seems that it’s true.
The app registered a drop from about 1014 hPa in Warsaw to as low as 775 hPa in flight. This means that indeed in the cabin about ¼th of the air, including both Oxygen and Nitrogen, are gone. Air pressure was dropping at the rate of about 1 hPa every 4 seconds and repressurising at a rate of about 1 hPa every 3 seconds, so faster.
Repressurisation actually hurt my ears, I suppose it’s the air column pressing onto some sensitive structure before it gets used to high pressure again.
Now where I am, in Astana, air pressure is still low: 965 hPa, which normally is seen in the eye of powerful tropical storms. This happens because of actual altitude.