How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Plane

PHOTO: Outside-air mixing replenishes the cabin air constantly, according to But if youre seated next to a very sick passenger, you may feel inclined to wear a mask.
Getty Images

It was kind of a scary flight on US Airways
earlier this month thanks to a passenger thought to be sick with
tuberculosis. He ultimately tested negative for TB but it’s a good
reminder not to fly if not feeling well because you might infect others.

Oh, who am I kidding? We’ve all flown sick. Airline change fees are way
too expensive for the luxury of retooling an itinerary simply because of
a cold. But as long as sick people fly, is there any way for the rest
of us to stay healthy?
Yes and no. There are things you need to worry about but also things you
can do to protect yourself. And sometimes, you just have to kick back
and hope for the best. 

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First, let’s agree I’m no doctor. But I do spend a lot of time in the
air, and talk to friends who also fly a lot, plus I try to keep up with
the latest travel/health information. Let me boil down what I’ve
learned: What to worry about, what not to worry about. 
Do worry about a sick seatmate
You’ve got problems if you have a coughing, hacking seatmate but you
don’t need me to tell you that. This is actually a time when where a
face mask might do you some good, especially if placed over the
offending seatmate’s nose and mouth. Otherwise, ask your flight
attendant if you can be moved, but with so few empty seats on planes due
to airline capacity cuts there might not be any place to put you. If
there are vacant seats, and you can move even a few rows away, you may
escape the germs.
And if you’re the coughing, hacking seatmate, think twice about flying. If you look bad enough, a flight attendant might kick you off the plane which happened on a United flight during the height of the H1N1 virus outbreaks. 
But say you’re seated next to a sick passenger; some say turning on the
overhead nozzle and shooting air down in front of your face is helpful.
For those of you concerned about cabin air, keep reading. 
Don’t worry about plane air
I’ve been talking about the once raging argument over whether airplane
air makes you sick as far back as 2007, but most seem to accept that
cabin air quality is very good, thanks in large part to today’s HEPA
(high-efficiency particulate absorption) filters. And remember, the air
you breathe on planes isn’t “old”: Take a look at this Q&A from
aircraft manufacturer Boeing: 
Q: Doesn’t the recirculated air [on a plane] just keep recirculating?
A: No. Outside-air mixing replenishes the cabin air constantly.
Replenishment assures that the recirculated portion does not endlessly
recirculate but is rapidly diluted and replaced with outside air. During
cruise or on the ground, the outside air is drawn in at the same rate
that cabin air is exhausted out of the airplane. – 
Note: Cabin air is dry air,
which is why everyone says drink lots of water (and more on that in
just a bit). Boeing also says that every single minute of your flight,
the ventilation system of an aircraft cabin “supplies about 190 times
more oxygen for each person than can be consumed.” So go ahead and take a
deep breath (as long as you’re not next to a feverish flu victim). 
Do worry about plane surfaces
I’ve heard of pilots making fives flights or ‘legs’ a day on the same
plane (sometimes more) so maybe hundreds of passengers have had the
opportunity to pass around germs on the plane you’re flying on, and
when’s last time you saw a cleaning crew between flights? 
Most dangerous areas of a plane for germs: According to experts and good
old common sense, that would be the lavatories, tray tables and aisle
seats. That’s right, aisle seats: As a sick person makes his/her way to
the bathroom, which seatbacks will they be grabbing for support? Think
about this when booking a flight during flu system; you may want to
re-think your seat selection. The good news is, there are a few things
you can do to stay safer. Washing your hands, frequently and well, is
number one. 
What you don’t know about washing your hands
Hand washing may seem incredibly basic but if done right, it can make a
difference. And yes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, there’s actually a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here
is the correct procedure as laid out by the CDC: 
• Water can be hot or cold as long as it’s clean and running.
• Make a lather with soap and scrub well including backs of hands,
between fingers and under nails.
• Continue rubbing hands together for at least 20 seconds or as the CDC
says, “Need a timer? Hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song from beginning to end
About hand sanitizers: According to the CDC, “Washing hands with soap
and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them.”
However, if you don’t have access to soap and water, go ahead and use an
alcohol-based hand sanitizer but make sure it contains at least 60
percent alcohol. And while hand sanitizers do reduce germs on hands
don’t be fooled into thinking they’ll get rid of all of them. The CDC
also wants you to know that these sanitizers are not so effective on
hands that are “visibly dirty.” 
About hand sanitizing wipes: Do have some of these wipes handy, in case
you plan on using your tray table; wipe it down thoroughly to reduce
germs. Personally, I think I’ll just leave mine in the upright locked
Staying healthy starts before your flight
If you have a scratchy throat or other signs of illness, see a doctor
before you fly. Even if you’re feeling fine, remember to eat healthy and
get plenty of sleep before traveling: It’s a no-brainer way to protect
yourself because if you’re run-down, you’re more vulnerable. 
Now back to water again. Hydration helps keep germ-fighting systems like
nasal passages in good working order. And like hand-washing, it seems
there’s a right and wrong way to get hydrated, too: The latest
conventional wisdom on the topic suggests that rather than drinking a
big bottle all at once and figuring you’ve done your part, you should
sip water throughout your time in the air. 
So do bring water aboard your plane but remember to wait to buy it until
after passing the security checkpoint so you aren’t forced to ditch a
perfectly good bottle. Remember, the TSA limits us to just 3.4 ounces of
liquid, though you can bring more in a checked-bag. 
Now excuse me while I go get my flu shot. 

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Credits: Abcnews

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