Millions of Americans will take to the skies this year. When they land, it’s entirely likely that they will deplane along with a wholly unwanted gift: enough illness-inducing bacteria to fill a cargo jet.
Consider these unsettling statistics:
- Random samples have shown that the drinking water on one in 10 flights is contaminated with bacteria.
- Germs populate the majority of tray tables and armrests.
- If you sit within two rows of someone with tuberculosis – and your flight is more than eight hours – you can become infected.
- Life-threatening MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been found to survive on planes for more than one year.
10 Steps to Staying Healthy in the Germy Skies
While there’s no foolproof method to ensure you’ll be flying in a germ-free zone, experts suggest that the following steps will at least swing the odds of avoiding a plane-propelled illness in your favor.
1. Slather hands with sanitizer – Throughout your flight, make sure that you have easy access to sanitizing gel containing at least 60-percent alcohol, because you are urged to use it frequently. For example, apply sanitizer before – and after – eating or drinking anything. Also, if you use the plane’s restroom, use sanitizer – in addition to washing your hands with soap and water.
2. Hold it if you can – On the subject of airplane restrooms, if at all possible – don’t use them! Researchers have found that airplane bathrooms are home to the greatest concentration of germs. Scientists also advise flyers – if they need to brush their teeth – to reach for bottled water rather than water from the restroom sink.
3. Create a current – The recycled air on planes has been found to contain pathogens, so – in an effort to ward off these uninvited, germy guests – use the vent above your head. Specifically, set it at low or medium, and position the nozzle such that you can feel air currents when placing your hands on your lap. This inflight tactic is designed to defend your personal space against infectious particles.
4. Arm yourself with antibacterial wipes – As mentioned previously, serious health threats – such as MRSA – have taken up residence on many planes. Additionally, particularly when a flight has a quick turnaround, cleaning crews don’t even make veiled attempts to sanitize the surroundings. Doing so thus becomes your job. Antibacterial wipes are TSA allowed, so wipe with abandon – including your seat, armrests, tray table, seatback pocket, and seatbelt. Some travel bloggers even advise wiping everything down twice before using it!
5. Sneeze strategically and don’t sniffle – A free-range sneeze can spew unwanted nasal particles up to 30-feet away. Just as you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of this snotty shower, don’t be the perpetrator. Instead, sneeze into a tissue (that you then properly discard) or – if you’re sans tissue – sneeze into the bend of your arm. If you’re experiencing a runny nose, another inflight no-no is to sniffle rather that blow into a tissue. Sniffling, in addition to sounding straight-up gross, is simply a form of self-punishment, as it enables microbe-filled mucus to multiply and increase your misery.
6. Remember to hydrate – As frequent flyers will attest, airplane air appears to have been borrowed from the desert for purposes of convincing your nose, throat, and lungs that they’ve been coated with sand. To convince them otherwise, sip water from takeoff to touchdown.
7. Stay away from spices and seeds – While on many flights today a bag of stale pretzels is considered an entrée, if you’re actually served an inflight meal, avoid any foodstuffs heavy on spices or that incorporate ingredients such as sesame seeds. Food inspections have shown that these meal additions can harbor salmonella and other bacteria.
8. Decline unpackaged pillows and blankets – If a flight attendant offers you an unpackaged pillow or blanket politely decline; or – if said unpackaged items are loitering on your seat – kindly request that they be removed. The reason is simple: Unpackaged pillows and blankets have not been laundered, and are thus likely to be teeming with germs. Use your own jacket or sweater to stay warm.
9. Select yogurt for several days – As a preemptive strike of sorts, it’s recommended that you consume yogurt for several days prior to your flight. Yogurt contains probiotic bacteria that increase the immune system’s ability to squash viruses. Be sure to select a yogurt that features “live and active cultures.”
10. Stop touching stuff – A general flying rule of thumb is – if you didn’t bring it on board – don’t touch it. This caution is particularly applicable to seatback pockets, which essentially are high-altitude landfills often overflowing with discarded food, used tissues, and even dirty diapers. And, no matter how bored you get during the flight, resist the urge to reach for any magazine stuffed into the seatback pocket. Based on the almost incalculable number of germy hands that have previously held these publications, more than one epidemiologist has classified inflight reading materials as biohazards.
Remember to take anti-bacterial wipes and use them, wash your hands frequently, and enjoy your trip.