5 Tips To Avoid Getting Sick During Air Travel
Air travel can be a dirty experience, even when flying in first and business class cabins. I always try to avoid getting sick during air travel by following some common sense practices (and some you may not have thought of). Despite my best efforts, it doesn’t always work out, as was the case on my recent trip to Jakarta and Paris when I developed a mild cold shortly after returning home. I’m pretty sure I caught something on my flight from Washington to Seattle (a flight I nicknamed ‘The Cough Rocket’), as it seemed every single person in business class was coughing, sneezing and sniffling. Sometimes getting sick is simply unavoidable, but following these 5 simple steps should minimize your chances of picking anything up while in transit!
1) Wash Your Hands, Don’t Touch Your Face
This may seem like common sense to most, but I can’t stress how important this first tip is to avoid getting sick during air travel. I was having a conversation with my doctor not too long ago about staying healthy while working in social services. He said ‘it’s really simple – wash your hands, and don’t touch your face‘. He said this habit was drilled into him during medical training, and was the primary reason he had taken only one sick-day during his 20 years of practicing medicine. While he didn’t have the stats handy, he said that most people make themselves sick by putting their fingers in ears/nose/eyes/mouths, and that catching something airborne is actually much less common. Furthermore, airplanes have very advanced air filtration systems in place, meaning the recycled air is not likely a contributing factor should you fall ill after flying.
2) Stay Hydrated
When flying first class, it’s often more tempting to drink the nice champagne than boring old water. However, similar to tip number 1, staying hydrated is probably one of the easiest things you can do to remain healthy and avoid getting sick during air travel. Flying has a way of…. drying you out. While drinking water may not prevent someone from coughing in your face, being hydrated will certainly help the immune system function better should you need it (I think there’s a popular myth about alcohol killing germs, but I wasn’t able to find any peer-reviewed articles to back up the claim).
3) Eat Healthy
Kind of similar to the tip about drinking water, choosing healthy food options while travelling will probably lead to stronger immune function and lessen your chances of getting sick during air travel. I’ve flown a lot, and I know it’s not always easy to eat healthy on a plane (especially flying domestically within North America….yuck). If you know your three options are going to be carbs, fat, or mystery meat, choose instead to bring a light and healthy snack and skip the airline food. When flying internationally, try to choose what sounds healthiest (many good airlines, such as ANA, will even provide a calorie breakdown of each meal on the menu). While overindulging can be tempting when flying premium cabins, try to avoid it – your body will thank you!
4) Pack Some Antibacterial Wipes
While it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the passenger to ensure their seat area is clean, unfortunately the reality is that planes don’t get disinfected between each flight, with turnaround times at airports barely allowing enough time to empty the trash. A recent report by Time concludes that the dirtiest surfaces in a plane are:
- Tray tables
- Air vents and seatbelt buckles
- Lavatory (handles and flush buttons)
- Seatback Pocket
- Aisle seat armrests
This list is not surprising, as people tend to use seatback pockets as personal trash cans (think used tissues) and aisle seat armrests are touched by a number of passengers as they walk up and down during boarding. While you don’t need to clean the entire aircraft, take a couple of minutes when you sit down and wipe some of these common surfaces to minimize the risk of catching a bug from the last passenger (don’t forget the in-flight entertainment controller).
5) Pack A Small First Aid Kit With Essential Medicine
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you might get sick while you travel. Cancelling or changing your ticket may not always be an option (although you should always make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance before any trip for these events), and you may find yourself forced to travel while under the weather. Should this happen, you can make the journey much less miserable for you and those around you by packing a few essential medicines. Anyone who has flown with a head cold or sinus congestion can vouch for the importance of having a small medicine cabinet with them. Good items to remember include:
- Cold and flu medicine
- Analgesic or anti-inflamatory (Tylenol, Advil etc)
- Anti-nausea medicine
- Cough suppressants
If you are feeling under the weather and need to fly, it’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider to ensure you’re healthy enough to travel, and preferably not contagious (your seat mates will probably still give you dirty looks if you’re coughing the entire flight). Remember there’s always a risk in being denied boarding if airline staff deem you unfit to fly…
It’s not always easy to avoid getting sick during air travel, as sometimes the outside forces are just too great. On my recent trip, I flew around the world in 6 days, and transited 7 airports with 7 flight segments. The combination of exhaustion, human interaction and sick people around me meant that no amount of advanced planning could prevent me from getting a bit of a head cold at the tail end of my journey (I’m feeling better now, by the way).
Don’t let the fear of getting sick stop you from flying (I’m a borderline germaphobe and still travel at the height of flu season). With a little bit of caution and planning, you can minimize the risk of getting sick during air travel and ensure a healthy and happy trip!
Have you been sick during or after air travel? What precautions do you take to ensure a healthy flight?