You don’t have to be a full-blown germaphobe to feel apprehensive about airplane cleanliness. There is just something about airplanes that screams "germs!" If the idea of being trapped in a pressurized cabin filled with recycled air and close proximity to the guy sitting next to you who can’t stop sneezing makes you feel a little queasy, you’re not alone.
Studies show there is an increased susceptibility to illness when you fly due to being in a cramped space with a large number of people, shared air and low cabin humidity. Studies vary, but most show that airplanes are likely carriers of the common cold.
One study cited in The Wall Street Journal found that on a plane, your risk of catching a cold may be as much as 20 percent higher than on the ground, and another study found that colds may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than during normal day to day life on the ground.
If wearing a mask while in-flight is a bit over the top for you, here are some alternative options to avoiding “plane germs” and staying healthy while flying.
Before you board basics. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated and don’t travel when you are sick. If you are sleep deprived, you are more prone to infection than those who sleep 6-8 hours a night, and the stress of travel can worsen any illnesses you already have. Plus, staying hydrated will help keep your respiratory tract moist and allow for better protection against bacteria.
Buy a bottle of water in the airport. It’s been reported that airplane water can carry a ton of bacteria so this is especially important if you know your airline doesn’t provide mini unopened bottles and instead serves water poured in cups.
Stay hydrated and combat dryness. Commercial airplanes have very low humidity—which can lead to dried up mucus membranes—and keeping your nasal passages moist can reduce risk of infection. If you are prone to sinus trouble, consider using a nasal gel and/or nasal spray that will help keep your nose moist while in a dry climate and possibly help reduce the number of harmful bacteria and allergens in your nasal passage.
Never travel without hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should be a staple when traveling to protect against germs. Although water-and-soap hand washing is always preferred, hand sanitizer is ideal for the time when you can’t get up from your seat. Be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before any in-flight meals or snacks. And, speaking of hand hygiene, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after using the lavatory and use a paper towel to open the bathroom door when exiting.
Wet wipes are your friend. Stash a pack of sanitizing wipes (99.9% effective against most common germs) and use them to wipe down your area: the tray table, seatback pocket, armrest, seatbelt buckle, headrest and any other hard surfaces. It may sound extreme, but it’s highly unlikely that these areas were wiped down in-between flights—and nobody wants to eat off a meal tray where someone has changed baby diapers or clipped their fingernails.
Avoid the middle seat. On planes, the biggest threat to your health is present by the people sitting in the two rows around you—not the air itself, surprisingly, which is actually quite clean. By placing yourself between two people, you’re doubling your chance of getting caught next to someone who could pass on a bug.
BYOB: Bring Your Own Blanket. Did you know that many airline companies only wash their pillows and blankets every five days? It’s even been reported that some airlines only do so once a month! Bringing your own blanket and/or pillow helps you avoid the germ-ridden “comfy” blankets that are handed out.