Airborne illness is a concern for many travelers on commercial flights. Common colds, coughs, influenza, and much more can be spread through the recycled air in an airplane, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But other viruses and diseases—think: MRSA, E. coli, and others—can be spread through contact with an airplane's surfaces, including your seat. "Airplanes are an excellent place to pick up some germs," says Thomas Horowitz, M.D., family medicine specialist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. "Many people worry about recirculated air, but most infections come from your hands after touching things in the airplane."
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All these free-loading germs beg the question: Should you wipe your seat down before you sit? Horowitz says that while there's no practical way to wipe down a fabric seat, those made from a plastic-like material can and should be wiped down with wipes that contain hydrogen peroxide.
Andrew Dominic DeMarco, M.D. FACP, medical director of Connected Health, says that Lysol or Clorox wipes should do the trick. "The object isn't to make the flying public panic," he says of the extra precaution, "but those with low immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, or those who suffer from a chronic illness can take this extra simple step to protect themselves."
Don't stop with your seat, either: Wipe down any hard surfaces you will touch during your flight, including your arm and head rests, food tray, TV and audio controls, and belt buckles. In other words, "Wipe down anything and everything that you are likely to touch during your flight because the flyer before you most likely touched those surfaces as well," instructs DeMarco.
To make sure you've properly sanitized these areas, Horowitz says you must allow the surfaces to remain wet from the wipe and dry naturally. Without adequate "wet" time, they may not work. Horowitz also suggests carrying disinfectant hand wipes or gel in your carry-on bag or personal item. "Use these after touching anything you did not disinfect," he says, including a fabric seat.
And consider covering up as an added protection against any seat-laden germs, which, in fabric seats, can even include live critters, such as lice, Horowitz explains. Long sleeves and clothes that cover your leg will offer the best protection, he says, who advocates for wearing a hooded sweatshirt on flights. "A hoodie is the best way to protect your neck and hair," Horowitz says, adding, "once you get to your destination, you should shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes."