No matter how much you love flying, you’ve got to admit it can take a toll on your body and mind. Arriving at the airport late is stressful, TSA security checkpoints are hectic, and airplanes are dry. Air travel can bump your blood pressure up a few points and leave you feeling exhausted and dehydrated. And with chronic diseases like high blood pressure affecting tens of millions of Americans, those increased stress levels can definitely do some damage.

Oakland-based healthcare consortium Kaiser Permanente, which cares for millions of Americans, recently helped Oakland Airport redesign its Terminal 2 TSA security checkpoint to make it a more wellness-oriented space. With new H20-to-go machines, outdoorsy imagery, and even a massive living wall, we think they did a pretty solid job. Read on for more photo highlights!

Oakland Terminal 2 is home to one of Southwest Airlines’ biggest west coast focus cities. Kaiser Permanente made its mark starting with security lane stanchions that remind you to take a deep breath to reduce your body’s stress response.

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You can find the same imagery on the bins that go through the security scanner.

The clear highlight of Kaiser’s installation here is a massive living wall, which is apparently the biggest living wall in a U.S. airport. Some of the plant species chosen for the wall were selected for their ability to filter impurities from the air. A TSA employee who works right underneath the wall said that he’s not sure if the air feels more pure, but that the wall definitely looks amazing and makes him feel more relaxed.

All around the checkpoint, fluffy white clouds hang from the ceiling. They have speakers inside them pumping out nature sounds like bird calls and rainfall.

There are a few health-oriented practical touches to Kaiser Permanente’s installation. We noticed plenty of new benches to help travelers catch their breath and put their shoes back on after security. Older flyers or those with impaired mobility may be extra appreciative of that feature.

Kaiser Permanente also installed a pair of high-flow water filtration stations that use coconut fiber filters to ensure high quality H20 to go.

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Kaiser Permanente’s national head of mental health and wellness Dr. Don Mordecai was present to share his thoughts on the project.

“We are a healthcare organization, and we pride ourselves on thinking about total health, including the mind, body, and spirit. We are interested in improving the health of the communities we serve, and we thought that this was a way to provide a benefit out in the community.”

Regarding the benefits of the installation, Dr. Mordecai noted: “Plant life is responsible for the oxygen we breathe, so having more plans indoors can add to air quality.”

Dr. Mordecai also had some general tips for more healthy air travel. “Some goals include deep breathing, physical activity, consuming more fluids, and leaving yourself more time to reduce stress. Regarding drinking, I’m talking about water. We don’t want people to drink more alcohol or sugary beverages.”

“If you have time before your flight, try and walk around. You’re going to be sitting for hours on your flight, so you don’t need to sit down at the gate too. It’s excellent if you are able to get up and move around on the plane, since blood can pool in your extremities when you’re just sitting. If you can’t get up because you’re in a window seat, then you can do chair exercises. Tense and relax your arms and legs, and move your head and neck around.”

He also pointed to food as an area where airports around the country could do better. “There’s lots of tempting food that’s not so great for you at airports. You can sometimes find options like salads, but you have to search around more than you’d like.”

Still, Dr. Mordecai sees progress being made in aviation health, particularly in the design of newer airplanes. “I’ve noticed that planes like the newer 737s and Dreamliners are doing things like hydrating the air better and offering more subdued lighting — and they’re quieter.”

My Closing Thoughts

My day job is as a med student, so I’m big on the whole health-in-aviation topic. I’m really glad to see projects like this one that make airports less stressful and more healthful.

Of course, this whole installation also functions as a big ad for Kaiser Permanente. But hey, if I’m going to be surrounded by ads at the airport, I’d prefer one that leaves me less stressed and more hydrated.

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And since Kaiser Permanente is a doctor-led organization that places a big emphasis on preventative care and whole-body wellness, I have no doubt that their passion for healthier travel is genuine. They have a website full of tips on how to be a more healthy traveler — check it out if it’s a topic that interests you.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Share your reactions in the comments section below. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.
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Sue Boiko

Appreciate Manu Venkat”s column! As a retired Kaiser physician I”m happy to see our name associated with a gorgeous green wall. However, I”m wondering how it”s maintained.Sprinklers? Gardeners on cherry pickers?

Don’t arrive late & it won’t be stressful, personally I have never found airports/flying in the least bit stressful & don’t see what all the fuss is about.

so kaiser permanente can put millions into redecorating an airport but can’t invest in their behavioral dept so people don’t have to wait months for therapy or drive hours for assessments? gtfoh kp!

ok wait i can’t say millions since idk how much they spent, but you get the point.

Hi Manu – is this a sponsored post from Kaiser? (“And since Kaiser Permanente is a doctor-led organization that places a big emphasis on preventative care and whole-body wellness…”). If so, should you be disclosing as such to your readers?

Hi Pedro thanks for reading! It’s a good question. I don’t work at KP and this was not a sponsored post. We promise to make it clear whenever a story is sponsored (which is rarely for us!). I’m a medical student and I’m interested in ways that the healthcare system can focus more on disease prevention and whole-body wellness. So I am genuinely excited to see airport improvements like this!

JL Johnson

What a unique and very “Manu” piece. Excellent to see passions collide here. I have long been fond of Kaiser’s non-profit, disruptive, and comprehensive approach to healthcare. Here’s hoping they can accelerate their growth beyond their still limited geographic region.

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