How to Avoid Airplane Germs and Stay Healthy on Your Trip

avoid airplane germs

If you are one of those people who always seems to get sick after flying on an airplane, you would do well to consider some of the points below.

Airplanes are a breeding ground for germs and germ swapping! Think about it. Some 200-300 people all packed practically nose to nose together in a long narrow tube, breathing the same air which spreads all the exhaled germs generously throughout the cabin.

Add too that all the surfaces they have touched with hands teeming with bacteria. How could you NOT get sick? To make matters worse, the airline companies are always trying to configure things in such a way that they can squeeze in a few more germs ... er, I mean people! On International flights you are dealing with a whole new mix of germs that include such threats as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the factualness of the above statements, stating thatinfection "may" occur among passengers seated in the same vicinity in the plane. This is usually the result of a sneeze or cough of an infected person.

In point of fact, a microbiologist, one Karen Deiss, tested for germs by swabbing random surfaces on two planes. Her tests confirmed that bacteria was found everywhere on those planes. For instance, bacteria causing respiratory and urinary infections was found on the seat pull-down tray. Considering that is where we put our drink and snack, it's pretty much a given that you will get sick without even leaving your seat!

Do you follow along on the flight information card when the flight attendant gives emergency instructions? Do you read the in-flight magazine? You just contaminated your hands with "Enterobacter asburiae," a germ that causes respiratory and urinary tract infections, as well as skin infections.


Dr. Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona also collected 100+ samples from planes over a six year period. He came up with a bouquet of viruses that included influenza, diarrhea, and MRSA. MRSA is a very dangerous and transmittable staph infection. It is the one that has been wreaking havoc in hospitals and other healthcare facilities throughout the U.S.

It is very contagious and it is most likely on your plane! This is the staph infection you have been hearing about on the news that has developed a resistance to antibiotics. In his tests, Dr. Gerba discovered several pull-down tray tables were contaminated with this MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). It is a superbug, as is the norovirus, a cruiser's worst nightmare! Bathrooms were not exempt from this germ infestation either, testing positive on 30% of the faucets, flush handles and sinks. Apparently there is not a policy in place by CDC for standards in cleaning and disinfecting airplanes!

How to Stay Well

After considering the above, it's fair to say that airplanes are an airborne petri dish for germ reproduction. Our human bodies have an amazing capacity to fight off illness and we generally develop immunities to the germs to which we are exposed on a daily basis. But this (the massive amount and variety of germs on a plane) is just too much for our bodies to handle. From the tests, it's clear that the worst exposure comes from touching exposed surfaces rather than breathing the air. Knowing this, we are able to take certain precautions to protect ourselves from getting sick, such as:
1. Preparing ourselves ahead of time for such a heavy exposure to germs. You can do this by building up your immune system in advance by eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Incorporate plenty of antioxidants in your diet: Vitamin C, green tea and such and herbs with immune-boosting properties: ginger, garlic, echinacea and goldenseal to name a few.
2. Wash your hands; then wash them again ... and again, before you get on the plane and certainly if you must (and I emphasize MUST) use the restroom on the plane.
3. Keep disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer handy and use them often. Wipe down your tray with them. Wipe the in-flight magazine with them. Wipe your seatbelt buckle with them. Wipe your window with them. Don't give a thought to the people staring at you as if you're a clone of Howie Mandell. YOU may be the only one who walks off that plane uninfected!
4. Do not touch anything in that plane with unprotected hands. Use a tissue or handkerchief when you must touch things, such as when opening the overhead compartment.
5. Germs can be transmitted by being absorbed into your skin, through our pores, or even your eyes, nose and mouth. Keep your hands on your lap and resist the temptation to touch your face.
6. Use Vicks First Defence Micro Gel or something similar. It is a nasal spray that fights germs by trapping them and preventing them access to your body.
7. There is better airflow near the front of the plane, so if at all possible sit up there. Conversely, avoid aisle seats. People use them to stabilize themselves as they walk down the aisles. Surveys show people sitting in aisle seats are more likely to get sick from their plane ride.
8. Avoid coffee and tea as it has been proven that airplane water isn't always clean. That is the same water used to make your coffee or tea
9. Take your own snacks. Airplane food is typically unhealthy junk food anyway.
10. Don't use the airline's pillows & blankets. They're not always cleaned or replaced between flights, meaning possibly sick passengers have used them and breathed into them.
11. We already touched on wiping down any magazines with your antibacterial wipes - OR, better yet, avoid them altogether.

By applying these suggestions, you will be far less likely to get sick as a result of your plane ride. Certainly there are no guarantees, but by taking every precaution you are increasing the odds of remaining healthy during your business trip or vacation. Remember, the germs are being spread mostly from direct contact, so keep your hands to yourself and enjoy your trip!

Barbara Komorek

Barbara is the founder and owner of www.leanhealthyandwise.com. She is a former research scientist with a serious passion for health. She enjoys writing about nutrition, wellness and lifestyle and empowering people to take control of their health.

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