Have you noticed lately that every time you fly, you come home sick? You’re not imagining it – just like schools and other crowded places, planes are easy places for cold and flu germs to spread. Reasons for this include recirculated air, close proximity of passengers, and lack of humidity. (Note: Much the same circumstances exist on trains, buses, and subway cars, though the air is less dry.)
In fact, research from the CDC and other health institutes has found that passengers are more likely than the general population to come down with an illness soon after flying.
But don’t worry – follow these 10 tips and germ-proof your next trip.
1. Disinfect. Bring disinfectant wipes and wipe down armrests and tray tables. 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.
2. Don’t touch. Use your sleeve, a tissue, or a paper towel to protect your hand when touching doorknobs and handles. (It goes without saying that you also need to wash your hands frequently.)
3. Hydrate well. Drink a bottle of water before you board and more water in-flight. And try not to drink coffee or black tea while you fly, since both are dehydrating.
4. Protect your eyes. Try not to touch your eyes – research shows the tear ducts are a primary transmission route for germs into the nose and throat. Along the same lines, remove your contacts when you fly to prevent dry eyes and avoid irritation.
5. Breathe deep. Irrigate your nose with saline nasal solution or mist. (There are specific products for this purpose, such as Flight Mist, but any drugstore product will do.)
6. Sleep on the plane. Chances are, you skimped on sleep the night before traveling, and sleep is the key to a strong immune system. Bring a blanket and travel pillow – you’ll sleep better if your neck is supported and you’re warm enough.
7. Avoid alcohol. Unless you’re a nervous flyer and need a drink to relax, alcohol is not your friend on flights. Not only is it dehydrating, it can also interfere with sleep, so skip the airport bar when you can.
8. Seek space. Anytime you can put space between yourself and others, you’re better off. On uncrowded flights, ask to move to a row where the middle seat is empty. And if you know a flight will be crowded when you book, see if you can get the exit row, which is roomier. And yes, if a seatmate is coughing or sneezing, it’s okay to ask to move, or remind them to use a tissue.
9. Beware food-borne illness. Send back cooked food if it’s not hot – the FDA has warned of food-borne bacteria on planes.
10. Ask for air. If you find yourself stuck on a plain with the ventilation system off, speak to an attendant and request that the air be turned on. Research has found that flu and cold germs are spread when passengers are cooped up without air. Which leads us to: Don’t close your vent – fresh air is your friend, and blowing air can help clear germs out of your airspace.