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  • Posted June 22, 2024

Plane Hygiene: Staying Healthy at 35,000 Feet

The pandemic highlighted the risk that air travel carries for the spread of infectious diseases, and that risk remains even though the health emergency has passed.

“Airplanes have many touch points that are perfect for the transfer of bacteria or viruses,” said Dr. Mike Ren, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “You don’t want to get sick while on vacation and prevent your chance for relaxation or come back with a cold or something worse.”

The risk of catching a cold or flu starts even before a person boards their flight, Ren said.

Ride-sharing services transport hundreds of strangers each day, and thousands pass through airports on their way to and from their terminal.

But a few common practices can help protect you from catching something, Ren said:

  • Use sanitizing wipes to clean the most-touched places on a plane -- seats, tray tables, seat back pockets, arm rests, flight attendant call buttons, air vents and lavatory door handles

  • Apply hand sanitizer or wash your hands regularly, particularly prior to eating a snack or after touching check-in kiosks, handling boarding passes or using the airplane or airport bathroom

  • Keep boarding passes and other documents on your smartphone, to reduce the number of times you touch surfaces in the airport and on the plane

  • Wear a mask through the airport and during flights to prevent airborne illnesses

“Flight crews have their own pre-boarding cleaning checklists, but since there is short turnover time between flights, they might miss something. Being prepared will give you peace of mind that comes from a clean flight,” Ren said in a Baylor news release.

Also, airplanes typically cycle air in and out of the cabin every three to four minutes, which in turn should rid the air of viruses, Ren said. However, masks provide more reliable protection.

People should keep their shoes on while flying, Ren added. The floors might not be cleaned as often as other parts of the plane.

On the other hand, changing out of your clothes after arriving at your destination might provide peace of mind, but isn’t essential to reducing infection risk, Ren said.

Finally, if you’re sick, you should think twice before traveling, Ren concluded.

“If you are sick, especially if you have a fever higher than 100 degrees, consider rescheduling your travel to keep others around you healthy,” Ren said. “If you must travel, use these tips to keep everyone healthy and prevent yourself from getting worse as your immune system is already weakened.”

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on staying healthy while flying.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, June 19, 2024

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