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How Not to Get Sick on a Plane? Tips on what to avoid when flying

Posted on May 08 2018

sick airplane germs travel

You’re sick again and blaming the air-conditioning or the person sneezing throughout your plane flight? Trust us, you’re not the only one.

On average there are over 8 million people flying across the globe everyday. Studies show that one in five people receive a cold or flu after a flight (Hertzberg, V. 2018).

Flights are already a painful process. There is nothing worse than sitting next to a screaming baby to be topped off with troubled bursts of turbulence and a dry continental breakfast - not to mention the excruciating proportioned wine they serve. But lets talk about the guy sitting in front of you, coughing, sneezing whilst you spend the next 12 hours using your t-shirt to shield yourself from his germs.

But do not worry, in a recent report (IATA, 2018) released by the International Air Transport Association has assured many concerned customers that airplanes are not as dirty as we all think.

Most planes are equipped with a HEPA (Hight Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, which are said to be 99.995% efficient in the regulation of air - similar to the filters used in hospitals. “These filters are effective in the trapping of microscopic particles as small as bacteria and viruses.” (IATA, 2018)

On top of this, the rumours of air being recycled through aircrafts are not necessarily true. These filters use up to 50% recycled air with the other 50% being from outside - the total supply is considered sterile and particle-free.

So, stop blaming the air quality and start blaming your fellow travellers.

airplane sick travel germs

Public health agencies (SARS,2003) have advised that the only real way to assure your health is safe, is to be cautious around an infected person. The main transmission route for bacteria  are respiratory droplets, which are spread by an infected person if they sneeze, cough, talk or even breath. On average 3,000 droplets are expelled when someone coughs which can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. A sneeze on the other hand spreads over 40,000 droplets at speeds of 200 miles per hour (SARS,2003).

Stay clear because these nasty germs can stay airborne for hours.

Once a person is infected all it takes is for them to touch your seat whilst passing through the isle, for your space to be then invaded, leaving you potentially exposed to harmful germs. In terms of most dangerous surfaces which propose the greatest risk of infection on a flight - the table tray, cabin bathrooms and back seat pocket win.

According to a study conducted by microbiologists, seat table trays are a “hotspot for bacteria” (Zhang, B. 2016). They found that the average tray contains over 2,155 colony-forming units per square inch. But this is nothing compared to the cabin bathrooms.

American health care system, Drexel Medicine, stated that the lavatories may just be “one of the ‘germiest’ places on a plane and a breeding ground for bacteria.“ (Zhang, B. 2017) Little to know surprise in that.

With on average 50 passengers per one restroom, that toilet and sink comes into contact with a lot of bacteria. In fact, healthcare professionals advise that you should never directly touch anything in these lavatories with their hands.  Instead insist that you should use a tissue and sanitation to assure to do not pick up anything nasty.

In terms of the backseat pockets no one knows what can be left behind. Next time you go to read the Airplane magazine think again.

A study by the Auburn University (Boxe, A. 2014) concludes that this bacteria can last up to over a  week (and may even be dirtier than the toilet handle.) Most surfaces on a plane are wiped down with antibacterial agents except the pocket seats and magazines - they are replaced quarterly when a new addition surfaces.

Reality check!  you’re own health can also have a lot to do with why you are sick.

Germs aside, it all comes down to your body’s adaptation to a new climate (and a cold one to) and your immunities ability to fight off any foreign bacteria. The airplanes low air pressure and oxygens actually have a lot to do with the compromising of ones immune functions. This combined with the disruption to your ‘body clock’ and we have a recipe for disaster!

All this aside, don’t stress about your safety concerns next time you decide to take to the air. Just remember that good hygiene practises lower the risks of catching a cold or infection. Don’t forget the wise words of Nicholas Bakalar from The New York Times; “choose your seat wisely!” (Bakalar, N. 2018).


Safe & Healthy flight,
The Team at Globite.

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