Airplanes are full of germs. Don’t be surprised. The fact is that airplanes are the perfect venue for germs to thrive: They have close quarters, frequent passenger turnaround and recirculated air. In addition, you should be aware of the hot spots that harbor the most germs. According to Travelmath, they are your tray table, overhead vent, bathroom flush button and lock, and seat belt buckle.
The seat pocket is another germ magnet (think soggy tissues and dirty diapers). Note that at the airport, drinking fountain buttons are the dirtiest.
“Airplanes not only create an environment that viruses thrive in,” says Nicholas Testa, a Los Angeles-based emergency medicine physician. “They also make it easier to transfer germs and viruses from person to person.”
Here are several suggestions you should use to stay healthy when you fly:
Airplanes: Clean Surface Areas
Aircraft cabins are usually cleaned when the plane stays overnight at the airport. Because the flu virus can last up to 24 hours on hard surfaces, these germs can linger between flights.
You walk by and touch a contaminated surface then unwittingly touch your eyes, nose and mouth. My favorite factoid: Humans touch their faces about 200 times a day.
Here’s what you need to do: On all the germy surfaces, especially tray tables, use a hand-sanitizing gel (with at least 60 percent alcohol). When you get settled in your seat, put several drops on a Kleenex and wipe down those areas that you’re going to touch,” Gendreau says. Of course, disinfectant wipes work, too.
Wash your hands frequently throughout your flight, particularly when you lower the tray table to eat and after you return from the bathroom — even if you’ve washed your hands with warm, soapy water. Keep in mind that there have been contamination issues with the water in the bathrooms.
Also you should know that since seat pockets can be tricky to clean, you may want to use your own bag under the seat to store your reading materials.
Airplanes: Keep Your System Strong
If you’re flying during flu season, make sure you’ve had the flu shot. The flu spreads by droplets made when people sneeze or cough, even from as far away as six feet — close enough to cause havoc when you’re crammed in with a crowd.
While there’s no guarantee that the vaccine will prevent the flu, it lowers your chances of getting it, and if you do contract it, your illness is likely to be less severe.
Airplanes: Choose The Window Seat
The aisle seats put you in a more vulnerable position, with all those potentially sick passengers walking and sneezing past you. Plus, people may steady themselves by grabbing your headrest when heading to and from the restroom. Indeed, a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases looked at a Boston-to- L.A. flight that had to make an emergency landing due to a norovirus outbreak, which caused vomiting and diarrhea in some passengers. Researchers discovered that passengers in the aisle seats — even those who never left their seats — were the most likely to have contracted the virus.
Airplanes: Senior Should Wear A Mask
Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to getting ill, due to their weakened immune systems — compromised by age, chronic illness and medications. Those who take medication for arthritis, for example, may be more susceptible both to getting the infection and to the consequences of an infection.
Control Your Airflow Button Above Your Seat
Studies have shown that the filters on most planes remove 99.97 percent of nasty particles. Of course, that doesn’t help you if you’re sitting next to someone who’s sneezing and coughing.
Use the overhead air vent — on a low setting — to create an air current that will move germs away. Put your hands just below your belly button, an inch or two away from your body, and you should be able to feel the flow. If you feel that air, you know it’s the correct position.
Stay Hydrated, Very Important
The humidity in the passenger cabin after takeoff can dip as low as 10 percent. That dry air can mess up the mucous membranes in your nose and airways, which need hydration.
Drinking plenty of water (at least eight ounces for each hour of flight) will prevent the dehydrating effects of air travel. Bring along a reusable bottle. Most airports have filling stations and you can keep the water coming by visiting the galley of the plane once you’re airborne.
Use A Nasal Spray, It Really Helps
Our mucous membranes are far less effective at blocking infection if they dry out. Look for a saline spray. It’s the same pH as the delicate tissues in your nose, so it won’t sting. Avoid medicated nasal sprays or anything with preservatives, which can dry out nasal passages.
Also, stash a small bottle of eye drops in your bag. They’ll relieve dry, itchy eyes, making you a lot less likely to rub them with possibly contaminated fingers.
Move Around, Don’t Sit For Too Long
The position of the seatback tends to slow circulation. This puts you at risk for deep-vein thrombosis, (blood clots) in the legs. Get up from your seat every few hours and stretch. Also walk around the cabin.
When you’re seated, do the following exercise. With your feet flat on the floor, bring your heels up and down, up and down, in a rocking motion.
Have a great and healthy flight!