Have you noticed that almost every single airline trip you take lately seems to end with a case of the sniffles, or worse, with a full-on case of the flu? If you’re starting to feel just a tad paranoid about picking up a nasty virus when you fly, you’re not alone. It’s a common perception that airline cabins are happy incubators for cold and flu germs.
But is that really the case? Well, it turns out that recent studies point to a number of possible causes for this actually being true. The causes include: close quarters, shared air, and extremely low cabin humidity. Today, with more than just the common cold virus going around making flying an even scarier scenario, airline passengers are taking the virus risk associated with flying more seriously.
So here are 8 ways to dodge those viruses when you fly:
Keep yourself hydrated.
Drink plenty of water before getting on the plane, and continue to drink while flying. A doctors’ number-one tip when you’re flying: Buy a big bottle of water as soon as you get through security and start drinking before you fly, so you’re well hydrated when you get on the plane. Drinking water keeps the mucus membranes in the nose and throat moist and better equipped to fight germs. Continue to drink water throughout the flight; if you’re on an international flight where they confiscate water bottles, request glasses of water from the attendant. Or bring your own refillable bottle — just be sure it’s empty when you try to board, and then ask the attendant to fill it for you once you’re on the plane.
Disinfect the surfaces you touch.
Using an alcohol-based disinfection product is a good second choice when you can’t wash your hands. You can also use disinfecting wipes to wash down surfaces you can’t avoid touching. Carry a pack of disinfectant wipes in your travel bag and wipe down armrests, tray tables, and the seat
Bring your own blanket and pillow on the plane.
Not only do few airlines reliably provide blankets anymore, but the ones they do offer can harbor germs. In fact, this fall several airlines removed all blankets and pillows from flights as a precaution against cold and flu transmission. Carry a light, foldable blanket in your bag; ladies, a pashmina shawl works well. Traveling with an inflatable or foldable neck pillow is a good idea, too. If you want to conserve space, you can bring along your own pillowcase and put it over the pillow provided, but wash your hands after the switch.
Turn on the air vents to circulate the air.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but the lack of circulating ventilation is one of the main reasons airplanes are safe havens for germs. In fact, the airline study showed that flights featuring actively recirculated air, which is filtered, had lower cold and flu transmission rates than those that didn’t. Some experts advise opening the air vents above your seat as far as possible, so the blowing air can help push away the germs that might float into your space from a nearby passenger.
Shut the toilet lid before flushing in plane and airport bathrooms.
Most people try to avoid touching toilet seats but don’t think about the spraying action of flushing. But researchers do. In one study, researchers measured the microorganisms in the air and on nearby surfaces after the first and subsequent flushes and found that “large numbers of microorganisms persisted on the toilet bowl surface and in the bowl water, which were disseminated into the air by further flushes.” And because plane bathrooms and airport cubicles are tiny, you tend to be standing much closer — or even directly over — the toilet while flushing. A simple solution: Close the lid first before reaching for the handle. After flushing, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
Try to wear a face mask.
Yes, it looks silly. But airborne germs are one of the top two sources of cold virus infection. If someone near you is coughing or sneezing and you’re unable to change seats, a mask is the only effective barrier between you and the airborne virus.
Demand to change seats if someone’s coughing or sneezing on you.
This one can be tough for the shy or well mannered. If you’re one of those who stay glued in your seat, terrified, for the entire flight, see our suggestions on how to change seats gracefully to avoid sick passengers. Of course, it’s not always possible to move if the flight is fully booked and no one’s willing to swap places. But it’s always worth alerting the flight attendant that you wish to be moved. Sometimes a seat becomes available when another passenger upgrades to business class or vacates a bulkhead seat because of emergency requirements.
Complain if you’re held on the runway with the vent system shut off.
There are documented outbreaks of flu on airlines in which passengers were held on the plane with the ventilation system turned off. In one case, researchers studied 54 people who were delayed on the ground for three hours because of engine failure before takeoff. Within two days, 72 per cent of the passengers became ill — and the researchers traced the flu strain back to one sick passenger.
Current recommendations require that “passengers be removed from an aircraft within 30 minutes of shutting off the ventilation system,” but the rule isn’t always followed. If you’re on a delayed flight and you notice the air go off, check your watch. After half an hour, approach a flight attendant and remind him or her that regulations require that the ventilation be turned on. If much more time passes, talk to your fellow passengers and see if you can garner some support, then approach the attendant again. In several such cases, irate passengers were able to get the ventilation system turned back on.
For more information on how to stay healthy by enjoying a clean airline and airport experience or on how we can help your airport or airlines keep up with today’s high industry standards in cleanliness, call CFM today for a FREE consultation!
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