How to Avoid Germs on a Plane

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

The cold and flu season is already in full swing, and everyone around me seems to be sick.  With so many states hard hit by the flu, air travel may contribute to the spread of germs.  Many people are already fearful of flying, and the added threat of picking up germs does not help.

Because of close quarters on a plane, it is easy to pick up germs while flying.  I am not even talking about the prevalent ebola scare a few years ago – there are so many other diseases that can be picked up:  colds, flu,  enterovirus 68, norovirus…   And, flu season is upon us, and anyone who is flying should take a few precautions.


Here are a few general tips on avoiding germs on a plane:

  1. Disinfect your area   Airplanes are known to be full of germs- studies have shown you have a higher chance of catching a cold on a plane than other regular activities.  On any flight, by the time you board you don’t know who sat there before you.  Bring disinfecting wipes and wipe the surfaces around you:  tray table, armrest, overhead bin handle, volume control etc.
  2. Be careful during bathroom use   After using the toilet, lower the seat cover before you flush to avoid having the water spray you.  After you wash your hands, use a tissue or paper towel to touch the doorknobs and faucet handles.
  3. Bring your own reading materials.  I used to always read the in-flight magazine after boarding – it was part of the flight experience.  Until I heard how germ infested those magazines are.  I also witnessed other passengers stuffing dirty tissues inside the magazine carriers.  Now I just bring my own book or magazine to read  You can also read via tablet or e-reader as soon as devices can be turned on.
  4. Don’t touch your nose, eyes or mouth.  It is easy for germs to enter your body through your eyes, nose or mouth.  You may have picked up germs with your hands, and touching will just instantly infect you.  Be mindful of your habits and stop yourself.
  5. Wash your hands  Remember to wash your hands frequently, and do so again right after you get off the plane.
  6. Stay hydrated.  Your nostrils, throat, and mouth may feel extra dry during a flight.  When they dry out, they less able to flush out irritants.  Help your body protect itself -drink water or juice to stay hydrated.
  7. What if you are sitting next to a sick person?   You could try requesting a different seat, especially if the plane is not full.  However, if all seats are completely booked then you are stuck.  Turn on the overhead air to get some air circulation.  Wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Put on a protective mask if you have one.  Another option is putting a scarf on your face and turning the other way.
  8. Protect your nose  If your nose gets extra dry, use a saline nasal spray for relief.  As mentioned in #5 above, the moisture helps your nose guard against germs.  I have not tried this trick, but at my last business trip, some of my co-workers swore by using a dab of Neosporin along their nostrils as protection from germs.  Of course, if you are going to apply anything to your nostrils, you must have freshly washed hands.
  9. Bring your own jacket or small blanket.  I realize it does get cold on the plane and blankets are available.  To be really sure you have a clean one, bring your own and avoid using the ones provided.  I’d also avoid the pillow as there is no guarantee it has not been used before.  I usually roll up my own jacket and use that as a pillow.  As an added precaution, pack a face mask and wear it during the flight.
  10. Bring your own water and food  You can get ill by eating food that’s been sitting out too long or if not handled properly.  To be sure you know the source, buy a water bottle at the store after you clear security and take your water with you.  Unless you are flying first class, most flights no longer provide food anyway, and if they do they are usually sub-standard fare – you might as well bring food or snacks and avoid airline food altogether.
  11. Strengthen your immune system.  The best way to avoid getting sick is to keep your immune system strong:  eat a variety of healthy foods including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise, avoid stress and get enough rest.
  12. Aim the air vent away from you.  When you turn on the air circulation vent, aim it away from you, so airborne germs circulating in the cabin do not hit you directly in the eyes, nose or mouth.

Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid catching germs on your next flight.

(Editor’s note:  I am not a doctor or health professional and do not claim to have expertise in the matter.  Just sharing what I’ve researched and what seemed to work for me.  If you are ill, please consult a doctor before trying home remedies.)

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Updated 2018

© Apartment Prepper 2018

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  1. I have a microbiologist friend. I asked him how long a virus could live on an inanimate object such as a door knob or computer keyboard. He said it would depend on the fat content of the particular virus. He thought it might last as long as a week.

  2. Make your own extra strength sanitary wipes.

    1. Pour some bleach into the sink, add water, then soak and squeeze a washcloth.

    2.Put the washcloth on the counter, squeeze it moderately (leaving some bleach) the press folded paper towels onto the washcloth, soaking them.

    3. Then place the folded paper towels into a Ziploc bag and use to sterilze the space.

    Most sanitary wipes do not contain bleach, even, ironically the Clorox ones.

  3. #12: Don’t fly on a plane. Cancel trips, vacations, travel in general. “oh but I have to”

    good luck with that.

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