Airplane or Giant Germ-Mobile? 10 Ways to Stay Healthy While Flying

·Lead Editor
people on a plane
people on a plane

What crazy germs are flying with you? (Photo: Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Yes, Ebola has arrived in the U.S. A Liberian national who flew from his home to Dallas to see relatives was hospitalized on Sept. 28 in serious condition with the disease. But don’t worry – unless your seatmate is fresh out of Liberia, bleeding from his eyes, and pukes on you, it’s unlikely you’re going to contract Ebola on a plane. (It’s only spread through direct contact with someone who is already symptomatic.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t 1,001 other things to catch in transit. So take the hemorrhagic fever hysteria down a notch, and use these 10 ways to keep yourself – and those around you – healthy when flying.

1. Wipe down your seat with antibacterial wipes

clean wipes
clean wipes

Your first line of defense against plane germs. (Photo: Steve Horrell/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)

Who cares if you look OCD? Everything from fecal matter to Methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria has been found hiding in the passenger cabins of planes. And if there was a quick turnover from the last trip, it’s likely all the cleaning crew did was pick up the garbage, says Katherine Harmon, the Director of Health Intelligence at iJet, an international risk management company. Antibacterial wipes are TSA friendly since they’re not a liquid, and you can use them to clean your hands, as well as wipe down your seat, arm rests, tray table, and especially your seatbelt before you sit.

Related: Watch: How Clean Is Your Airplane? You Don’t Want to Know

2. If you have to sneeze on board, do it into the crook of your arm

someone sneezing
someone sneezing

Gesundheit! You’ve just made everyone sick. (Photo: Cheah Min Yoon/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Fun fact: An un-sheltered sneeze can spew droplets from 6 to 30 feet away, according to Harmon. So sneezing into the bend of your arm may sound icky, but it works. Just don’t sneeze into your hands: “You’re going to touch other things and potentially spread viruses or bacteria,” explains Harmon. Let’s not get everyone else sick.

3. On a similar note, blow your nose, don’t sniffle

woman blowing her nose
woman blowing her nose

Blow your nose, please. (Photo: Thinkstock)

We may hate snot, but bacteria and viruses love it, according to Harmon. So rather than sniffling the microbe-filled mucus from your runny nose back up into your nostrils (where the germs will thrive and multiply), blow it into a tissue and throw it away.

Related: Travel Fever (the Bad Kind): What to Do When You Get Sick on Vacation

4. Stay hydrated – but not for the reason you think.

bottled water on a plane
bottled water on a plane

Drink up! (Photo: Dejan/Getty Images)

Drinking sufficient fluid in-flight actually helps prevent a chain reaction that leaves you prone to catching something nasty. Here’s how it works: Plane air is dry like the desert, which parches your nose, throat and lungs, says Harmon, and when that happens, your body tries to remedy the situation with a runny nose. As we’ve just learned, that runny nose is a Mecca for bacteria.

5. Watch out for spices and seeds on the plane food

airplane food
airplane food

Sneaky spices can make you sick. (Photo: ballyscanlon/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Though most plane food is gross, it’s pretty safe since it’s microwaved beyond recognition. The exception may be spices or add-ons like sesame seeds, which can carry bacteria. “We’ve been finding that spices imported from other areas are what harbor bacteria like salmonella,” says Harmon. “Often it’s not actually the meat.” So be especially careful if you’re traveling around developing countries on local airlines.

6. Likewise, don’t trust the tap water – not even to wash your hands

plane bathroom sink
plane bathroom sink

We told you to bring anti-bacterial wipes. (Photo: J.W. Alker/dpa/Corbis)

“Planes fill up their tanks wherever they’re being serviced,” says Harmon. That means if you’re flying somewhere you shouldn’t drink the water (or if the plane may have just come from a place like that), you should stick to bottled H2O. In fact, you should drink bottled water, regardless – the Environmental Protection Agency once found that 15 percent of the water on planes contained fecal matter. And the bathroom tap? Make sure you use plenty of soap or pull out those antibacterial wipes.

7. Never use the airplane blankets or pillows unless they come packaged

flight attendant with pillow
flight attendant with pillow

Ma’am, please put down the pillow. (Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images)

If the pillow or blanket shows up in sealed plastic, that means it has been laundered, says Harmon. But if not, stay away. Who knows where they’ve been or what germs are lingering on them. Bring your own or use a jacket or sweater to do the trick.

8. Don’t wait until the last minute before you travel to get your shots

getting a shot
getting a shot

Ouch! (Photo: Thinkstock)

“You need time to build immunity after they’re administered,” explains Harmon. And we’re not just talking about getting the hepatitis A vaccine for third-world travel. A simple flu shot takes seven to 10 days to offer full protection, she says.

9. Stop touching everything all the time

plane window
plane window

Keep your hands to yourself. (Photo: Jessica Williams/Moment/Getty Images)

You put your hands all over stuff more than you realize – and then you probably touch your face. Remember that fecal matter and MRSA we discussed earlier? The less sh*t you touch (literally and figuratively), the less chance you have of coming in contact with nasty germs. It’s as simple as that.

10. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the Asian trend of wearing surgical masks when traveling.

surgical mask
surgical mask

It may seem strange, but a surgical mask could help you stay healthy. (Photo: Photo Alto/Matthieu Spohn/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty Images)

If you’re not in Asia, this could be a tough sell. If you are, seeing people walking through airports or traveling with the masks on is a common sight in some areas, thanks to bird flu and choking pollution. (Some airlines even give them out in Tokyo.) The catch is, studies show it’s the sick person who needs to wear the mask, according to Harmon. If anyone two to four rows in front, behind or the to the sides of you is sick, a mask on his or face could help keep you healthy.

Related: Death Trap: What Really Happens When Someone Dies on a Plane

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