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Travel tips: How to keep from getting sick on a crowded airplane

It all starts before your flight, too

Inside of a plane.
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Traveling by plane is a convenient and efficient way to reach your destination quickly this holiday season, but the confined space and recycled air can heighten your risk of getting sick. Catching a cold or the flu during a trip can put a damper on your plans and keep you from spending time with your loved ones. With a few proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of falling ill while flying. These travel tips will help you to stay healthy and enjoy your journey without worrying about any airborne illnesses.

Girl walking outside airport rolling her suitcase
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Pre-flight considerations

Preventing illness while you travel starts before you even step foot on the plane. You are much more likely to fall ill if you aren’t mentally and physically prepared for your journey. 

Boost your immune system

Start preparing for your trip well in advance by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a great way to make sure your body is getting the vitamins it needs to thrive. Supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc are also great for boosting your immune system. 

Hydrate hydrate hydrate

Airplane cabins are notoriously dry, and being dehydrated can quickly weaken your immune system. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. It is also a good idea to avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption, as they can contribute to dehydration. 

Rest up

Lack of sleep can compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Make sure you are prioritizing sleep for a few days before your flight. This is especially important if you have a long or late-night flight where sleeping may not be possible. 

Inside of an airplane cabin full of passengers.
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On the flight

Once you are on the plane, it is important to do everything you can to keep your space clean and prevent germs from entering your body. Although this is often easier said than done, there are a few preventive measures you can take to keep yourself in good health.

Choose the right seat

In a study done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was found that germs from sneezing, coughing, or breathing are unlikely to be directly transmitted beyond 1 meter (3.28 feet) from the passenger who is infected. Because of this statistic, it can be concluded that the window seat is the “healthiest” seat to sit in. Sitting in a window seat reduces your likelihood of being in direct contact with fellow passengers walking down the aisle. Window seats also provide you with a barrier on one side, minimizing your exposure to germs. 

Sanitize your space

Bring antibacterial wipes in your carry-on and clean your seat, armrests, and tray table before sitting down. These surfaces often harbor germs from previous flights, so a quick wipe-down can help to reduce your risk of exposure.

Use air vents strategically

According to NBC News, airplane air is typically circulated through hospital-grade filters and is designed to remove 99.97% of all bacteria. Use this to your advantage and direct the air vent above your seat to create a personal airflow barrier. 

Avoid touching your face

Refrain from touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth. These are entry points for germs, and keeping your hands away from your face can reduce the risk of infection. 

Stay active

If your flight is over two hours long, make it a point to take short walks and stretch periodically to improve circulation. Doing this can help prevent stiffness and boost your overall well-being. 

Keep your belongings in the overhead bins

Place as many of your belongings as you can in the overhead bins and refrain from opening them during the flight. Keeping your purse, backpack, or other possessions on the floor exposes them to your shoes, which is a hotspot for germs. If you can, keep everything you need in the seatback pocket or in the seat with you.

Man with a suitcase watching an airplane take off through the airport window.
Yousef Alfuhigi / Unsplash

Post-flight practices

Your work isn’t done once you exit the plane. It is essential to continue caring for yourself in the days following your flight.

Continue hydration

After the flight, continue to stay hydrated to counteract the dehydrating effects of air travel. Water will help to flush out toxins and support your body’s natural defenses against illness.

Rest and recover

If you can, give yourself some time to rest and recover after the flight. Jet lag and fatigue can weaken your immune system, so listen to your body and prioritize self-care.

Maintain good hygiene

A little bit of good hygiene goes a long way. Hop in the shower as soon as you can after leaving the airport, wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer when necessary. 

Taking a proactive approach to your health before, during, and after air travel can reduce your risk of getting sick on a plane. Incorporating these practices into your travel routine will help protect you from airborne illnesses and contribute to an overall enjoyable and worry-free travel experience.

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