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Radiation on the plane and during flights

Radiation on the plane and during flights

We got the Geiger counter, convinced to measure increased radiation while in Japan, when all we were about to find, were values as average as radiation can get, mainly hitting the bottom-end of average, surprisingly lower than in any country we have visited so far. Old story, I know.

New story. It would turn out we didn’t buy the Gamma Scout for nothing. We would get sensational radiation on our way to Japan. During the flight, the Geiger measured levels of radiation that were spectacular. And it was the same sensational scenario on all long distance flights we measured thereafter.



It is safe to carry a Gamma Scout on an airplane. It passes FCC Sec 15 standards and will not emit radio interference. The x-ray machine will not damage the Gamma Scout. The Gamma Scout contains no radioactive material and emits no ionizing radiation.



It seems everybody knows about increased radiation when flying. The plane obviously gets more of unfiltered cosmic and solar radiation. But do people know just about how much radiation they face? I didn’t (no worries, my intellect may not be representative of anything).

Let me tell you. What our Geiger picks up during flights, sets its integrated hazard-alarm-feature, regularly off. This happens when radiation values exceed 5 micro sievert/hour, that is up to 50 times above average.

Scientists have determined harmless levels of radiation to be at 0.100-0.200 micro sievert/hour.

Who cares? We are flying at our own risk, I know. I am watching safety demonstrations on the plane – I am provided with a safety jacket, oxygen mask – how about a radiation safety coat?



The extreme radiation passengers are exposed to is only temporary and planes fly at varying heights with fluctuating values. What are the risks for frequent flyers, pilots and flight assistants? I did some maths to put ‘extreme’ into perspective.

I found this interesting article on radiation levels and health implications for cabin crew as well as frequent flyers during (transatlantic) flights:



20th March 2012. Our first flight with the Geiger counter. Going to Tokyo through Berlin, Frankfurt and Beijing. It was new shoes versus direct flight, okay?

Berlin. We are still not very high up. I wish to specify ‘not very high up’ but they wouldn’t let me into the cockpit. ‘Healthy’ values exceeded way over 10 times here.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Same day same flight. Higher up. More radiation. 20 times more.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements during flight


Values drop dramatically on the plane as we have arrived in Frankfurt. Everything’s back to normal, even below average.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements during flight


20th March 2012. Connecting long distance flight, which means high altitude, from Frankfurt to Beijing. Exceeding average radiation 30 times.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements during flight


We are now 40 times above acceptable values during the flight from Frankfurt to Beijing. Feels good to know that on the ground in Tokyo, radiation was dandy again.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements during flight


11th August 2012. We are on our way from Thailand/Koh Samui to Norway/Oslo, going through Singapore and England/London.

On the plane at Koh Samui Airport (before take off).

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Flight from Koh Samui to Singapore. Same scenario as on every flight. Values rise way above average, once in the air. We are still rather low on altitude, hence ‘only’ 10 times too much radiation.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements during flight


We progressively rise in altitude and radiation.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Reaching 20 times average radiation on our short distance flight to Singapore. And now the scary part (again): that’s just (airline served) peanuts in comparison to long distance/transatlantic fights.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Long distance flight from Singapore to London. We are almost 40 times over what’s considered to be tolerable for human beings.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Then definitely over 40 times the average dose. And this time I can tell you how high we were, because…

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


…the seat monitors displayed altitude, speed and temperature. So, at about 11000m altitude, radiation levels are no fun at all, nor is outside air temperature.

Monitor display on plane showing altitude, ground speed, temperature


The monitors also displayed our current location: we were pretty close to our home town Szczecin, aiming ‘high’ for London. So high that we exceeded the limit of 5 micro sievert/hour (when we were asleep). Geiger was definitely alarmed  – on the next picture the display shows a tiny warning sign in the right corner.

Monitor display on Location of plane


Connecting flight from London to Oslo. As you can see, way over 10 times average radiation. Here, we noticed the warning sign that had come up on the display. We were exposed to radiation levels, which were 50 times higher than normal.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


The flight from London to Oslo was no better. We are getting buckets full of radiation, with some potentially harmful dose of 40 times too much of the invisible stuff.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


The mean thing is that as we received an abundance of radiation, we were about to get poisoned orally. See how many flavour enhancers, colouring agents and preservatives you can spot. The world is not fair. Hungry but full with radioactivity, we arrived in Oslo.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


Good news. If you are about to board mini planes like these… you are not going to get very far but also not very high, which is great, because radiation is going to be low.

Small plane in Norway


17th August 2012. We are flying from Oslo to another Norwegian town, called Florø. Radiation is only an itsy-bitsy-tiny-bit over average. Not even worth to mention, when flying, really. It’s funny, because we got similarly increased values almost all the time when touring Kuala Lumpur city in Malaysia, values which ironically turned out to be low in contrast to amazing radiation in our hotel.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


4th September 2012. Flying from Oslo/Norway to Budapest/Hungary. That was one unforgettable RyanAir scam experience. Oh, and radiation was over 30 times above average.

Radiation on a plane - Geiger measurements on plane


I really must check, if I am not glowing in the dark. Although I haven’t heard anyone saying I was too ‘bright‘, lately.

Scary stuff, huh? I mean: comments are welcome.


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  1. Interesting stuff. It would be a good idea to indicate whether measures were taken during daytime (with the sun blowing directly to the plane) or nightime (do we get less radiation during night flights ?)

    • Yeah, Tomek was checking day-night difference at some point and said that he couldn’t see a significant change (like, we’ve observed that the radiation was sometimes bigger during some of our night flights, when compared to day flights etc.). I guess it really depends on more factors, like the exact altitude or geographical location and sun activity. We didn’t yet have a chance to do the the flight on the same route during day and night.

      However, we shall check and report back during our coming flights (next one scheduled for June 2nd – Tokyo is just too nice to leave) :)

  2. Very interesting stuff! So you flew a lot, in a short time. What is going to happen to you now? Also, does it affect children differently? Is more than 2 flights a year really harmful? I really feel for the frequent flyers who really need to re-evaluate their situations.

    • We are fine :) And there are people who fly much more than we do.

      Take a look i.e. here:

      For flight crew members who are in the air for hundreds of hours every year, over their entire working careers, the increased risk of cancer or some other unwanted health problem may possibly be increased by a percent or two compared with the population as a whole. For casual travel of the sort you describe, there is really no risk, whether you are four months, four years, or 40 years old.

  3. I usually feel sick after long duration flights, like I’ve been poisoned and ascribed it to cosmic radiation and lower oxygen levels.

  4. Not likely, low O2 isn’t obvious unless <15% Might be CO2 buildup though.
    In the olden days this is why they had canaries in the coal mines.
    Radiation unless its literally massive exposure won't show any immediate effects: telltale signs include a metallic or sweet taste in the mouth and other more worrying side effects including feeling sunburnt. If beta radiation it can burn the skin, this can be obvious in 6-8 hours.

    Suggest if you are worried take an SpO2 meter with you, this will show if there is indeed a problem.
    Have you been diving recently?

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