Oh the “Joy of Travel”!
An excellent article about flying and traveling safely without getting sick.
There’s nothing worse than hopping on a flight to take a long-awaited summer vacation — only to land in paradise with a nasty cold or stomach bug.
Airplane germs are unavoidable, but experts say there are ways to protect yourself. It all comes down to knowing what you’re fighting against and how to protect yourself.
Around your seat, you’re likely to pick up germs that cause the common cold, flu, staph infections, or norovirus — many of which can live for days, weeks or months on a surface.
In the bathroom, you should be on high alert for E. coli — bacteria often found in fecal matter that can lead to serious infection.
Here’s where you’re most likely to find these germs — and how to protect yourself.
“Once an airplane drops off its passengers, [flight attendants] may spray [something] or pick up papers, but no one’s cleaning the tray tables,” says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine, and author of “The Secret Life of Germs.”
Be proactive: Dr. Neil Nandi, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Drexel University College of Medicine, suggests toting hand wipes that clean and moisturize, and wiping the surfaces around you after you clean your hands. “The first thing people should do when they sit down is wipe down their trays,” says Nandi.
Magazines and touch-screen entertainment
Steer clear of this season’s in-flight magazine. If it was published three months ago, that’s likely how long that same copy has been sitting at your seat, collecting countless passengers’ microbes. Touch-screen entertainment systems aren’t much better, but at least they can be sanitized with a wipe before movie-watching.
“The [handle on the] bathroom door is one of the filthiest places,” Tierno says. He suggests dousing your hands in a gel with 60 percent alcohol or higher after returning to your seat, to be safe.
Toilet and lid
“When you flush, close the toilet seat,” Nandi says. “Airplane toilets have a powerful suction, but some of the particles [in the toilet] may be dispersed into the air.” To avoid germs on the lid itself, lift it up and lower it with a paper towel or piece of toilet paper to protect yourself.
Water faucet and soap dispenser
Think about it: You go to the bathroom, do your business, then turn on the water to wash your hands, depositing germs on the faucet in the process. While both experts suggest washing hands for 15 to 20 seconds, airplane faucets tend to run for less than five, meaning you have to repeatedly touch the germ-ridden faucet to wash for long enough. Nandi suggests tapping it back on with your knuckles, while Tierno reiterates the need for an alcohol gel, even after washing.
Paper towel dispenser
Be deliberate when you go to touch something — if you’re reaching for a paper towel, make sure you only touch the towel itself.
AC knob on the ceiling
“People are constantly adjusting them,” says Nandi. In other words, the plastic knobs are veritable germ hubs. While you don’t have to worry about a steady stream of bacteria blowing at your face, use a wipe or tissue as a protective barrier if you need to adjust the airstream.
Comfy headrests “can hide lice,” says Tierno, plus any germs coughed up by previous users. Bring your own pillow or protective barrier.
Sneezing passengers in the row behind you
“If someone … seated in back of you [has a cold], you will get the germs,” Tierno says. Nandi recommends requesting a seat change if there are openings around you: “Changing a few rows may or may not make a difference, but if there’s availability, it’s worth asking,” he says. “You’re not going to offend anyone.”