The holidays are coming, and for many of us, that means traveling by plane to visit friends and family. Many air travelers would swear that they get sick after every trip or vacation. So, what’s in the air up there? Research has shown that whether it’s peak flu season or not, air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection. According to The Wall Street Journal, one study showed the increased risk for catching a cold en route as high as 20%, while another study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that colds may be 113 times more likely to be transmitted on an airplane than during normal everyday life on the ground. And the holidays are a particularly infectious time of year, with planes packed full of families with all of their luggage, all of their gifts – and all of their germs.
Why We Get Sick on Airplanes
Unfortunately, while traveling by air is often the most convenient way to get to where we need to be quickly, airplanes are nearly the perfect environments for getting sick. They are enclosed and contained spaces where people from all over the world stay for long periods of time. Research shows that disease-causing bacteria can linger for hours, days, and in some cases – even up to a full week, on most airplane surfaces. In 2014, a team of microbiologists and engineers at Auburn University in Alabama found that nasty bugs like MRSA and some strains of E. coli can hitch extended rides airplane surfaces like armrests, window shades, tray tables, toilet seats and more. That means, by the time you board your flight, there is a likely week full of germs piling up on nearly everything you touch and encounter on a plane. If that weren’t enough, you can add in the factor of reduced oxygen, extremely low humidity, and being at a much higher altitude than you’re used to. Even though airplanes are generally pressurized at 8,000 feet, oxygen reduction and low humidity cause dehydration in the body. This causes the drying up of the mucous membranes in our throat and nose that normally protect us from the diseases we encounter in our normal daily lives.
All this aside, there is no reason to cancel your flight. There are steps you can take and precautions to follow to avoid falling ill while traveling this holiday season, or any other time of year.
Before You Travel
For most healthy people, following a few basic principles can help prevent illness and maintain wellness before, during, and after your trip. These include:
Eating Well & Staying Hydrated
General good health practices help to keep your body strong and ready to fend off illness. Nourish your body with plenty of colorful, whole foods to strengthen your immune system. You should also avoid processed foods and foods high in sugar, particularly in the days leading up to a flight. In addition, drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated helps keep your whole body operating at its best before your flight. A well-nourished body is less vulnerable to all stressors, including illness.
Getting Plenty of Rest Before Your Flight
To make sure your immune system is performing at its best, try to get a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep the night before your flight. If you have a ridiculously early morning flight scheduled, try to take it easy the day before your flight and catch some extra ZzzZz’s.
Avoid Traveling When You Are Sick
Don’t travel when you are sick. Aside from having consideration for others, the stress of travel can exacerbate any illness you may already have.
On the Airplane
Whether it’s peak flu season or not, you might still wonder how clean the airplane really is – and where the nastiest germs are lurking. In 2015, a microbiologist collected samples from four flights to calculate the total number of bacteria per square inch. The results may surprise and disgust you: The airplane lavatory flush button showed 265 bacteria colony forming units (CFU) per square inch, the seatbelt buckle showed 230 CFU, the overhead air vent 285 CFU, and the seat tray table showed a whopping 2,155 CFU. Don’t worry! There’s no need to cancel your flight. Instead, follow these steps:
Disinfect Your Seat & Tray Table
Before you sit down in your seat on the plane, disinfect your seat and tray table area. You won’t have to worry about any weird looks from passengers – this is an easy step. Take your travel-sized bottle of Vital Oxide out of your bag and spray down everything – the seat, armrests, the seat belt buckle, the overhead air vent, and the tray table. Vital Oxide kills 99.999% of bacteria and viruses, including MRSA; e.Coli; H1N1; HIV; Norovirus; Hepatitis A, B, and C; and others. And it does all this while being hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free, non-irritating to skin, and safe to use around children. Vital Oxide’s disinfecting power is effective on virtually every surface, including hard surfaces like the airplane tray table, and upholstered surfaces like the fabric on an airplane seat.
Breathe a sigh of relief - your airplane seat and tray table are now disinfected! You can take a seat. That said, it’s still a good idea to avoid reading the inflight magazines and also avoid using the seat-back pockets. If you enjoy reading on your flight, bring your own book. If you know that you’ll need more storage space during your flight, think about purchasing an airplane seat-back organizer before you fly. If you need to use the restroom while you’re flying, be sure to take your best travel buddy (your travel-sized bottle of Vital Oxide) with you, so you can disinfect the lavatory button and seat.
Choose Your Seat & Change it if Needed
If you find yourself seated next to a passenger who is coughing, sneezing, or visibly ill, politely ask your flight attendant if you may switch seats. Also, always avoid using airplane blankets and pillows! If you think that you may be chilly during your flight, or if you’re going to be flying for hours, a good rule of thumb is to always pack a small blanket or an oversized sweater. When traveling I usually pack a blanket and a sweater – plus a travel pillow. It’s small and comfortable!
As stated earlier, the low humidity on a plane can increase your chances of catching illness. Drink plenty of water during your travels and avoid drinking alcohol. Bring your own bottle of water and sip during the duration of your flight. If you order water from the drink cart, make sure it’s from an unopened bottle and not already poured into a cup.
Use the Air Vents
To circulate the air in your area, use the air director above the seat. Open the air vent and aim it so the fresh filtered air passes just in front of the face.
Keep Your Hands Clean
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to disinfect the entire plane between every flight. But the simple act of washing your hands with warm water and soap is a powerful defense against germs. If possible, wash your hands before any in-flight meals, and after your flight as well. If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to help them wash their hands often as well.
After Your Flight
The days following your flight are just as important as the days before! Make sure you get plenty of rest after flying, stay hydrated, and eat well. It’s also a good idea to disinfect your luggage after flying. Simply spray it liberally with Vital Oxide to kill any lingering germs and let it air dry.