Maybe you’ve noticed over the years that every plane trip seems to end with a cold or bout of the flu. Is there a connection? Well, yes, just as there is in any situation that puts many people in close proximity in an enclosed place for a long period of time.
While the modern airplane ventilation systems on larger planes are much improved, research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that nothing can stop a sneeze from reaching you within two seats in any direction from someone who’s sick.
And researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada used health records and statistical analysis to conclude that air passengers were 113 times more likely than the general population to come down with a cold in the week after a five-hour flight. According to the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, possible culprits include recirculated air, close proximity of passengers, and most importantly lack of humidity.
One more thing: the air isn’t your only concern. Rhinoviruses, the germs responsible for the common cold, can survive for up to three hours on surfaces like railings, door handles, armrests, tray tables, and seat pockets, reports the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
As always, the secret to self-protection is to be prepared. Here are 15 ways to germ-proof yourself while you fly.
3. Don’t touch your eyes – research shows the tear ducts are a primary transmission route for germs into the nose and throat.
6. Sleep on the plane – you probably skimped before you left, and sleep is the key to a strong immune system.
8. Hydrate well; drink a bottle of water before you board and more water in-flight.
9. Don’t drink coffee or black tea while you fly; both are dehydrating.
10. Skip the airport bar – alcohol is dehydrating and also interferes with deep sleep.
11. If possible, change seats if someone is coughing on you – would you rather be considered impolite or get sick?/>/>
14. Don’t close your vent – fresh air is your friend, and blowing air can help clear germs out of your airspace.
15. Speak up if you’re stuck on the runway with the ventilation system off. One case study found that 72 percent of the passengers kept on a plane for three hours without fresh air got sick within two days of the flight – all from one fellow passenger with the flu.