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How Not to Get Sick on a Plane

Staying healthy while flying is important to all of us. There is a lot of talk among frequent flyers about how being a road warrior is unhealthy and there is lots of anecdotal information about the risks of catching a cold or flu in the air. So we decided to document our routine for staying healthy. When you log between 150,000 and 200,000 miles a year you have a lot of time in the air to think about germs and how not to get sick on a plane.

Grooming a Plane is Not Cleaning a Plane

Most airlines like to turn around a plane as quickly as possible. Therefore ground staff usually only have time to pick up the garbage from the inbound flight and reset the amenities like pillows and blankets for the next one. Don’t be under any illusion that the plane is undergoing a thorough cleaning. It’s not.

So we ALWAYS travel with antibacterial wipes and make it a habit to wipe down all the surfaces of our seat when we first sit down. This includes armrest, tray tables, remotes, IFEs, seat belt, head rests, etc. The idea is to hopefully kill any obvious germs left on the surfaces we’re going to be touching.

Not All Airlines Care as Much About Cleanliness

According to Skytrax, which tracks customer satisfaction with airlines, the cleanest cabins are from Asian and Middle Eastern carriers. We have to agree. The outliers here, Swiss and Lufthansa are also quite fastidious, but Asian carriers seem to put a real priority on cabin comfort. As an example most airlines on this list have a Flight Attendant clean the lavatories in business regularly, sometimes after each use. And the economy washrooms are also kept clean. You don’t see that on American carriers, even on long haul flights.

  1. ANA All Nippon Airways
  2. EVA Air
  3. Asiana Airlines
  4. Singapore Airlines
  5. Japan Airlines
  6. Cathay Pacific Airways
  7. Qatar Airways
  8. Swiss International Air Lines
  9. Hainan Airlines
  10. Lufthansa
  11. Korean Air
  12. Cathay Dragon
  13. Austrian Airlines
  14. China Airlines
  15. Thai Airways

The entire process of flying involves contact with significant numbers of people. Check in counters and lounges, washrooms and lavatories, custom halls and baggage claim areas are all shared by thousands or tens of thousands of other people and that means they are areas with sick or carelessly unhygienic people. So not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re rife with germs. These are places where you can all to easily come in contact with a bug. 

Some flyers, particularly in Asia, use face masks, others frequently apply hand sanitize. Both strategies make sense, though we have never considered wearing a mask while flying. The key is to be aware. Watch out for surfaces such as doorknobs and railings, try not to scratch your eyes or nose, and never put a customs card or boarding pass in your mouth. Believe it or not we have seen this more than once. Not only is it dirty, it’s really gross for the customs agent or ground staff. 

Wash Your Hands Frequently

Many studies on the quality of air inside an airplane have concluded that because it is filtered it is no worse than a typical house or office building. This would seem to imply that the biggest risk of infection on board  is from touching an infected surface. So always wash your hands, use sanitizer or wipes and try to be conscious of what you’re touching.

And Move

It’s not just germs that can cause health problems, DVT or Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that can occur after long periods of sitting. So get up, walk around and maybe even follow the exercises listed in the in flight magazine. of course eat healthy, drink lots of water and avoid too much alcohol. *We felt compelled to add that last part… but sadly it’s true.

There’s no way to guarantee that you don’t pick up a bug while traveling but if you take our advice on how not to get sick on a plane, we’re pretty sure you’ll increase your odds of staying happy and healthy on your travels.


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