Linda On The Run

How To Avoid Getting Sick On A Plane

On my flight from Miami to Paris, across the aisle from me sat a visibly ill woman. Her eyes were red and glassy, her nose swollen, red and draining, and she had a violent uncontrollable moist cough. Yes, across the aisle from me for an 8 hour flight!

Studies show more than 1 in 5 travelers who fly to their destinations suffer from colds or flu after their flight. You certainly run the risk of becoming sick on a flight from directly inhaling particles in the air from someone else’s coughing or sneezing, or you can become ill if you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes, mouth or nose.  How can we avoid getting sick when we fly? And what did I do during my flight to Paris to prevent my across-the-aisle fellow passenger’s germs from ruining my trip?

How to avoid getting sick on a plane PLANE

How to Avoid Getting Sick on A Plane

Stay Hydrated

Most planes fly 30-35,000 feet elevation where the humidity is very low. Mucus membranes of our nose and throat get dry in low humidity inhibiting the natural drainage system that carries viruses/bacteria we encounter down to the stomach to be flushed out. Its called our Mucociliary Clearance System: the thin layer of mucus and tiny hairs in the nose traps viruses and bacteria and moves them from the nose to the throat, where they are swallowed and destroyed by the acid of the stomach. The humidity inside the cabin of a plane can be lower than 15% thus drying nasal passages and the throat, and allowing the bacteria and viruses easier access to your lungs. To combat this, you must remain hydrated. Drinking water keeps your mucous membranes moist and better equipped to fight germs.  Drink a bottle of water before you get on the plane. If bottled water isn’t your thing, carry your empty water bottle through security and fill it as soon as you are through. And continue to hydrate frequently for the duration of your flight.

How to avoid getting sick on a plane water bottles

Travel With Nose Protection

Airborne germs are one of the two top sources of bacteria and virus infections. Consider bringing a nasal saline solution or nasal mist with you when you fly to keep your nasal passages moist, which can boost your body’s germ flushing action. (Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.) Or, you can apply a small amount of Neosporin or petroleum jelly just inside your nostrils (using a Q-tip or freshly washed hands!) Steam from hot drinks served on board like coffee, tea or hot chocolate is another way to keep your mucous membranes moist.

Be Aware Of Your Fellow Passengers

On board your plane, a person with a cold or the flu who is sneezing or coughing can infect others. You are generally only in danger of catching their flu or cold if you sit within two rows or two seat lengths from the sick person.

If you think a fellow passenger is a germ dispenser, ask to move your seat. You can be truthful about your situation or reason for the request, or volunteer to sit in an exit row, or closer to the bathroom, or switch places with someone who wants to sit with their family. If moving isn’t an option, consider these alternatives to protect yourself: if the offending person is seated behind you, don’t put your seat back which would bring you closer to them. If they are sitting in front of you, do tip your seat back to be a bit further away. Also, as still another option, travel with a face mask. Use it when you feel you have no other option.

how to avoid getting sick on a plane PASSENGERS


This is one case in which being a paranoid germophobe is just common sense. Germs ARE all around you when you are trapped in a tiny airplane cabin:  on shared surfaces such as armrests, tray tables, seat belt buckles, seat back pockets and bathroom door handles. Just think, the person sitting in your seat before you may have put his/her used contaminated tissues or discarded napkin in your seat back pocket! Germs can survive for hours or days after the passenger who brought them all on board has departed. Some of the 200 or so viruses that cause the common cold can infect people up to 18 hours after they have left the host. And flu viruses can infect people for up to 8 hours after they have left their host.  MRSA and E-coli can live on the plane for over a week!

There is simply no substitute for hand washing as the first line of defense against all types of illnesses. Wash your hands before and after you board your plane. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet so you don’t pick up more germs before you leave the bathroom. Under your nails is where 70% of germs hide, so don’t forget to clean them.  Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you cannot wash your hands, and avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose with your hands any more than you have to.

Also, pack disinfectant wipes and wipe down your tray table, armrests, seat belt buckles, remote control devices, television touch screens and overhead air vent controls. Don’t store personal items such as your water bottle, reading materials, or tissues in your seat back pocket. Keep them stashed in your carry on bag. For bathroom door handles and other public surfaces, use a paper towel or tissue as a barrier between your hand and the object. And ALWAYS wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

how to avoid getting sick on a plane HAND WASHING

Do Not Turn Off Overhead Vent

Lack of circulating air is one of the main reasons airplanes are breeding grounds for germs. Do not close your overhead air vent that is blasting that frigid air! Your plane’s actively recirculated air is filtered, and planes with good ventilation systems have lower cold and flu transmission than those that don’t. Also, the blowing air just might help push away germs that may float into your personal space from a nearby passenger.

Do Not Sit In An Aisle Seat

Avoid aisle seats. Sitting in an aisle seat may have you more at risk of being exposed to germs as you are closer to passengers who patrol the aisles for exercise or those coming and going to the restroom. People often tend to touch or hold aisle seats when walking up and down the aisles,  contaminating them.

Do Not Use Blankets Or Pillows

Avoid using airline blankets and pillows unless they are individually packaged.  Investigations have shown that airlines wash blankets and pillows every 3 to 5 days. Often freshly washed blankets will only be set out for the first flights of the day. Customers who board toward the end of the day risk receiving blankets or pillows that have been used several times during the day

So how did I fend off the offensive germs my fellow traveler was uncontrollably spewing into the air during my flight to Paris? i made an extra effort to drink all through the flight.  I made a conscious decision to sit turned inward towards my right and away from the aisle.  I definitely cleaned my personal space with a lot of disinfectant wipes and covered myself for most of the trip with a blanket I brought on board. When I slept I even covered my head as the poor woman coughed and sneezed relentlessly all through the flight. Once I arrived at our Air B&B flat in Paris, I deposited my luggage in my room, and promptly put all my traveling clothes in the washing machine to clean! I made sure to hydrate and get extra rest to pamper my immune system. I did not get sick and enjoyed a week in Paris with my family.

Do you notice you get sick after flying? What do you do to ward off colds or the flu before, during and after you fly? Leave your tips in the comment section below.

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18 thoughts on “How To Avoid Getting Sick On A Plane

  1. Running Betty

    I keep a travel pack of Wet Ones wipes and hand sanitizer in my carry on. I do wipe down my arm rests and food tray on planes. People look at me like I’m nuts. Too bad for them!

    1. Linda Malys Yore Post author

      People look at me like I’m nuts too. But I do not care either. And more often than not, the wipes are so dirty when I am done with them. It is disgusting.

  2. Jane M

    What do you think of surgical masks? I almost always wear one on long flights now. In Asia, everybody does it, in North America, I get a few weird stares, but it’s becoming more and more common. To me, it’s worth a few weird stares to prevent getting sick!

    1. Linda Malys Yore Post author

      Hi Jane. A face mask is a great suggestion. I would definitely consider wearing one, especially on a long international flight. And I would not worry about a few weird stares. Would be well worth it to avoid getting sick! Thank you for the comment.

  3. Amy M

    Fab tips. I’m quite lucky that I havent caught a cold after a flight, but I imagine it must have been super frustrating to be so close. I feel for her though – it’s so draining travelling when you’re not feeling your best!

    1. Linda Malys Yore Post author

      Yes you are fortunate you have never gotten a cold after flying. I hope my tips will add to your arsenal of things to do to prevent future illnesses on future travel!

  4. Josy A

    That poor lady! I am surprised they let her on the flight is she seemed that poorly.
    Did you manage to stay well during your trip? I really hope all your effort paid off! 😀

    1. Linda Malys Yore Post author

      I felt sorry for the sick traveling lady, she was really miserable. YES, thankfully all my tips kept me and my traveling family well to celebrate my daughter’s birthday in Paris!

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  6. Savannah

    Hi I get motion sickness very easily on planes so I can’t read. I also can’t sleep. Why is tea bad? Coffee dehydrates you wouldn’t that be bad to drink on a flight?

    1. Linda Malys Yore Post author

      Hi Savannah tea dehydrates too. Stick with filtered water. Why can’t you sleep? I bring a eye mask and blanket to feel more comfy and sometimes ear plugs to block out the background noise.

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