Stay Healthy While Flying
Airplanes are notoriously filthy, and they’re cleaned far less frequently than you might think. Certainly, deep cleaning isn’t done during the short period of de-boarding and re-boarding at most airline gates. In addition, there are several other travelers that have been in the seat before you. Germs such as bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for several hours, so chances are you are sitting in the midst of others germs when you take your seat on the plane!
In spite of the ease of getting practically inoculated with germs on the airplane, there are some simple things to remember in order to avoid getting sick after you de-board the plane.
- Stay Well Hydrated
- Don’t Touch Anything
- Bring Your Own Food On The Plane
- Get Fresh Air
- Plan And Rest Ahead
- Stay Active
Planes are very dehydrating and our bodies need water to help us make the fluid that lines our respiratory tracks. This fluid helps to clear out germs from our nose and mouth, so drink lots of water when you fly. On long flights, consider bringing along a saline nasal spray to keep your nasal passages moist. Most pathogens enter our bodies through our nose and mouth so protect those entry sites.
Ok, maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the surfaces on a plane such as your tray tables, seat arms, seat pockets, and seat belts have been touched by many others in the course of the day. Keep your hands away from your face and keep your personal items such as your glasses or phone in your bag under your seat instead of your seat pocket. If you don’t have to touch, don’t. In fact, bring your own reading materials too! And as soon as you are off the plane, wash your hands thoroughly. If you must eat on the plane, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer before you eat. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold can live up to three hours on shared surfaces such as armrests, tray tables, and bathroom door handles.
In 2010, the FDA issued a warning about food-borne illness from airplane food, reporting that cockroaches, ants, flies, and debris had been found during an inspection of the Denver facility of the world’s largest airline caterer, LSG Sky Chefs, which provides 405 million meals a year worldwide for more than 300 airlines. The FDA also detected the deadly bacteria listeria in samples taken from a kitchen floor. Since heat kills most food-borne bacteria, pay close attention to whether your airline meal is served piping hot. If you see evidence that a meal wasn’t heated thoroughly, such as a still-frozen or cold spot in the center, send it back. Make sure all snacks and sandwiches are served in plastic. Better yet, bring your own food from home.
While you might be tempted to close that blasting air vent, don’t. The lack of circulating ventilation is one of the main reasons airplanes are safe havens for germs, according to studies of cold transmission on planes. Actively recirculated air is filtered, so planes equipped with good ventilation systems have lower cold and flu transmission rates than those that don’t. And the blowing air can help push away the germs that might float into your space from a nearby passenger. Beware of any situation (such as a delay on the runway) in which you’re held on a plane with the ventilation system turned off; there have been documented outbreaks of flu on airlines under these conditions. Any time people are confined in close quarters for long periods of time breathing stale air, the result is increased exposure to airborne germs. FAA rules require that passengers should be removed from an aircraft within 30 minutes of shutting off the ventilation system, but they’re not always enforced. If you’re on a delayed flight and you notice the air go off, watch the time, and remind flight attendants that regulations require that the ventilation be turned on.
Being sleep deprived or stressed can make you more prone to illness by raising your cortisol levels and lowering your resistance to infection. Get a good night’s sleep before your flight, arrive early to avoid the crowds and the rush, and take some time to purchase a few personal items before you fly to take with you on the plane such as snacks, water, hand sanitizer, tissues and reading materials.
Staying active with exercise keeps your blood flowing well. Our blood carries white blood cells, which help the body to fight off infection. When your white blood cells are plentiful and free flowing they can do a better job of protecting you. So when you can, KEEP MOVING!
We are a very mobile society with wonderful places to explore and adventure to be found. Being sick while you are enjoying your time away is NO fun so plan ahead and enjoy! Here’s to safe and illness free travel.
Until next time, here is to the BEST of your Health!
Elizabeth Salada MD
Internal Medicine and Wellness