Look out for the germs! They are hiding out in places you wouldn’t necessarily think of!
It’s an ominous moment on par with any cinematic scene: The instant you notice the sound of hacking and sneezing from the airplane seat in front of you.
There you are, strapped in aboard a jetliner bound for Germ Town, quite certain you’ll be bringing back a souvenir flu in a matter of days.
How can you avoid getting sick while flying? Billy posed that question to the health experts to get the best tips for beating the cold, flu and stomach bugs while flying the friendly skies.
Step 1: An ounce of prevention
You’re likely already familiar with what you should be doing to stay healthy, but these things are even more important in the weeks leading up to your flight.
“Stay well-hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol, get plenty of rest, eat nutritious food, and you should be OK,” says physician Michael P. Zimring, director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-author of Healthy Travel: Don’t Travel Without It!
Sounds simple, right? But how many travellers actually take this advice before their trips? Doesn’t everyone instead to stay up all night packing for a trip, and then tuck into a fast food meal before their flight?
Even Zimring confesses to this: “Before I go away, I don’t get enough sleep and feel miserable.”
Airport food can be unhealthy, so consider making sandwiches or another light snack from home for your flight.
“And don’t drink anything that’s going to give you gas,” says Zimring – advice that will help you curry additional favour with your seatmates.
Another simple thing you can do in-flight is get up and take a stroll down the aisle after the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off. This can help prevent more serious health problems like clots in your legs.
Step 2: Don’t touch the germ hangouts
When people talk about airborne illness, you’ll often hear them bemoan the state of “recirculated air” on the plane. In fact, the aircraft’s ventilation system, which introduces fresh outside air to what’s being circulated inside is filtered using the same technology that hospitals use and should be the least of your worries.
The really nasty stuff is actually lurking on nearly every surface of the plane – largely in places you wouldn’t commonly consider. Certainly, it’s wise to wash your hands after using the airplane restroom, but don’t stop there. Using a paper towel to unlatch the door will help you avoid one of the biggest germ hangouts on the plane, Zimring says.
And chances are, you’ve seen people wiping down their tray tables before a flight. Why? According to a widely publicized 2015 study by Travelmath, the bacteria population per square inch of an average airplane tray table is more than eight times more germy than a lavatory flush button, making that surface from which you’re going to eat your healthy snack a veritable petri dish.
Yep, this thing is just coated in germs
Zimring says it’s a good idea to join in the germaphobes by bringing your own sanitizing wipes with you. Other places where germs like to hang out (and are rarely cleaned) include your headrest – just say no to the seldom-washed pillows – and the air vent.
And speaking of strange germ hangouts, where you sit might also impact your chances of getting sick. A study based on a 2008 outbreak of Norovirus on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles found that passengers sitting in an aisle seat were more likely than those seated in the middle or window seats to contract the illness, which was so severe it required an emergency landing.
Step 3: If you do have to travel sick
What to do in the event that you have to fly while ill? Aside from frequent hand washing, consider donning a mask if you’re actively coughing and sneezing.
“People should wear them if they’re really sick,” says Zimring. “Of course, if you sit next to someone with a mask on, you’re going to scare people away.”
Chances are you’re going to scare them anyway. Might as well don the mask.