For many flyers, the scariest part of a flight is when pilots announce through their Bose aviation headsets that there’s some turbulence ahead. The plane bumps and jostles ominously in the air, but there are far scarier parts of a plane ride. They’re all around you, but you can’t necessarily see them: germs.
Planes are a veritable germ factory. Think about the number of people that pass through a plane in a day, the air that gets recirculated throughout your flight. It’s no wonder then that about one in five airplane passengers catches a cold within a week after a flight. Here are a few tips to help you stay healthy during your next flight.
1. Don’t eat off your tray table.
Cleanliness is a bit of an illusion on the plane. Although flight attendants do vacuum the floor after each flight, they don’t have enough time to wipe down all surfaces, your tray table included. The tray tables are cleaned once a day, late at night, before the next day’s first flight. By the time you board, who knows how many people have touched the tray or sneezed or coughed on it?
Travel with wipes or ask a flight attendant for a wet towel to wipe down the tray before you eat. Consider placing something of yours—a book, magazine, or another flat object—on the tray and eating off of that something. You never know whose hands—or bare feet!—may have been on that tray before your sandwich.
2. Avoid the pillows and blankets.
Unless you’re on an international flight, most airlines won’t provide free pillows and blankets to the main cabin, but if you’re in first class, you’ll generally receive that free bit of comfort. Except, considering how little the rest of the plane is cleaned between flights, don’t assume that the complimentary pillows and blankets are cleaned. Planes aren’t equipped with onboard washers and dryers.
Fabric isn’t an effective transmitter of disease, aside from smallpox. Still, think about how many people have drooled on the pillows and cuddled the blankets. Placing either item near your face, around your nose, eyes, or ears, increases your chances of catching whatever germs the last passenger was carrying.
Sleep aids provided during international flights are usually wrapped in plastic and are safe for use. Otherwise, leave the blankets and pillows alone and purchase your own sleep aids from the pilot shop before your flight.
3. Treat lavatories like public restrooms.
Flight attendants aren’t required to clean the bathrooms during a flight. They are encouraged to keep things tidy, which means the bathrooms are stocked with supplies and the trash is kept under control. There’s no sanitizing or cleaning of toilets, so the lavatory has more germs than the aviation headsets the pilots speak into all day.
The small space and the powerful flush do no one any favors either. When you flush the toilet, you send various germs—including E. coli and fecal bacteria—into the air that stick to the door handle, the sink, and the walls.
Put the lid down before you flush. Wash your hands thoroughly, but more importantly, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet, open the door, or handle the toilet seat. If there is no lid to put down, turn your back to the toilet as you flush and prepare for a fast exit.
The miracle of human flight paved the way for all kinds of amazing opportunities, but no one took into account the number of germs. Hopefully, with these tips, you can maintain your health on even the most packed of flights.