Staying healthy after air travel – 12 tips for avoiding germs

by Health

Air travel these days means being elbow-to-elbow with strangers, hundreds jammed into a chamber for hours on end, touching all the same surfaces. All that makes staying healthy after air travel so much more difficult.

Perhaps you hear people moan about how they got sick from the recirculated air. More likely than not, they got sick from a lack of sleep combined with stress prior to a flight that weakened the immune system – and being in close proximity with others coughing and sneezing near you on the plane.

A study in March 2018 found that even if you are two rows away from a sick person, your chances go up to 8 in 10 of catching that person’s illness. There are some who advise trying to change seats in this scenario, but let’s face it, in today’s overcrowded planes, that’s simply not very realistic, is it?

What do you do to avoid germs on planes and not get sick after a flight? You have to travel smart. Let’s take a look at some top traveling tips for staying healthy after air travel:

  • If you are sick, try not to fly. Please. But if you really must for whatever reason, cough and sneeze in your elbow, or cover your face, and keep your head down and germs to yourself as best you can. And wear a mask – seriously!

  • If you are highly motivated to not get sick or have an immune deficiency, you should also consider wearing a face mask in the airport and on the plane. Yes, really.
  • Although planes seem to fly pretty full these days, if there is somebody coughing or sneezing within three rows, take a look around for an empty seat and move if at all possible.
  • In a quest to make more money and speed turn-arounds at airports, cleaning crews do a mad dash. Do NOT assume the armrest, screen, tray table or anything else you may touch has been wiped down. Take antibacterial wipes and do it yourself.   Staying healthy after air travel by wiping down your tray tables and more
  • Try to avoid touching other surfaces like even the seat backs everyone handles on their way up and down the aisles, or ANYTHING in or near a bathroom.
  • Speaking of bathrooms, use a tissue to open the door going in and to grasp the latch to lock the door once inside.
  • Do avoid touching anything in the bathroom. Use a paper towel (or your foot) to flush, turn on faucets and grab the handle on the way out. Oh, and close the lid before you flush to avoid the fine mist spraying at you and on all the surfaces.
  • Don’t forget the magic of frequent hand-washing. Do it for 20 seconds with soap in the bathroom and as often as you can.
  • If you can’t wash your hands – or as an extra precaution — use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you have been in the bathroom or touched anything (including handles on overhead bins, seatbelts and vents). Keep it in a pocket or handy so you are not stuck in your seat with the sanitizer in the overhead bin.
  • Do not put food directly on tray tables – an area that researchers have found to be among the least hygienic on a plane. You really do not know what has been there – and it could be really gross.
  • Stay hydrated. Meaning drink lots of water. Most planes use bottled water – for good reason since studies have found airplane water from the pipes is not so bacteria-free. Bring your own bottle with water and have it refilled early before attendants (might) run out of bottled water. Frankly, I’d probably choose to drink the airplane water over getting dehydrated, however.  
  • Everyday advice of not touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose where germs can enter your body applies even more strongly on planes.

Staying Healthy After Travel Sacramento AirportMany of these tips for staying healthy after air travel apply to a lot of other travel scenarios for staying healthy during travel. Take a look at additional tips in our story of travel hacks for avoiding germs in public places.  And read our infographic for 8 tips on staying healthy and fit.

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Staying healthy after air travel

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Heads up! This information on staying healthy after air travel was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.

Air travel these days means being elbow-to-elbow with strangers, hundreds jammed into a chamber for hours on end, touching all the same surfaces. All that makes staying healthy after air travel so much more difficult.

Perhaps you hear people moan about how they got sick from the recirculated air. More likely than not, they got sick from a lack of sleep combined with stress prior to a flight that weakened the immune system – and being in close proximity with others coughing and sneezing near you on the plane.

A study in March 2018 found that even if you are two rows away from a sick person, your chances go up to 8 in 10 of catching that person’s illness. There are some who advise trying to change seats in this scenario, but let’s face it, in today’s overcrowded planes, that’s simply not very realistic, is it?

What do you do to avoid germs on planes and not get sick after a flight? You have to travel smart. Let’s take a look at some top traveling tips for staying healthy after air travel:

  • If you are sick, try not to fly. Please. But if you really must for whatever reason, cough and sneeze in your elbow, or cover your face, and keep your head down and germs to yourself as best you can. And wear a mask – seriously!

  • If you are highly motivated to not get sick or have an immune deficiency, you should also consider wearing a face mask in the airport and on the plane. Yes, really.
  • Although planes seem to fly pretty full these days, if there is somebody coughing or sneezing within three rows, take a look around for an empty seat and move if at all possible.
  • In a quest to make more money and speed turn-arounds at airports, cleaning crews do a mad dash. Do NOT assume the armrest, screen, tray table or anything else you may touch has been wiped down. Take antibacterial wipes and do it yourself.   Staying healthy after air travel by wiping down your tray tables and more
  • Try to avoid touching other surfaces like even the seat backs everyone handles on their way up and down the aisles, or ANYTHING in or near a bathroom.
  • Speaking of bathrooms, use a tissue to open the door going in and to grasp the latch to lock the door once inside.
  • Do avoid touching anything in the bathroom. Use a paper towel (or your foot) to flush, turn on faucets and grab the handle on the way out. Oh, and close the lid before you flush to avoid the fine mist spraying at you and on all the surfaces.
  • Don’t forget the magic of frequent hand-washing. Do it for 20 seconds with soap in the bathroom and as often as you can.
  • If you can’t wash your hands – or as an extra precaution — use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you have been in the bathroom or touched anything (including handles on overhead bins, seatbelts and vents). Keep it in a pocket or handy so you are not stuck in your seat with the sanitizer in the overhead bin.
  • Do not put food directly on tray tables – an area that researchers have found to be among the least hygienic on a plane. You really do not know what has been there – and it could be really gross.
  • Stay hydrated. Meaning drink lots of water. Most planes use bottled water – for good reason since studies have found airplane water from the pipes is not so bacteria-free. Bring your own bottle with water and have it refilled early before attendants (might) run out of bottled water. Frankly, I’d probably choose to drink the airplane water over getting dehydrated, however.  
  • Everyday advice of not touching your face, eyes, mouth and nose where germs can enter your body applies even more strongly on planes.

Staying Healthy After Travel Sacramento AirportMany of these tips for staying healthy after air travel apply to a lot of other travel scenarios for staying healthy during travel. Take a look at additional tips in our story of travel hacks for avoiding germs in public places.  And read our infographic for 8 tips on staying healthy and fit.

Pin it for later

Save This Post For Later

Staying healthy after air travel

Heads up! This information on staying healthy after air travel was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.
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Therese Iknoian

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian now focuses her writing and photography talents on travel. Fluent in German, Therese also runs a translation business (ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. She's a French speaker, and loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication. Therese is an award-winning member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.
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