• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • I used to fly a lot for work. After getting sick a few times (and seeing the movie Contagion) I started being hyper-aware of everything and everyone I touched. Like a lot of people, I assumed planes were filthy places riddled with germs. And — spoiler alert — they are. 🤢

      But, according to a recently published study, your risk of catching the flu on a crowded airplane actually isn't as high as you might think, and there are apparently a few things you can do to keep it low:

      Stay in your seat. People who get up and move around are more likely to be exposed to sick passengers. And using the lavatory means you'll be touching things dozens of other passengers have touched.

      Avoid the aisle. People in aisle seats have the most contact with other passengers, and the tops of the aisle seats themselves tend to be dirtier because passengers touch them as they move around the cabin. The best seat for germaphobes is the window seat.

      Sit at the front or back of the plane. Passengers in the middle of the plane have more contact with other people than those who sit near the front or back.

      Practice good hand hygiene. If you do have to use the lavatory, wash your hands and then use hand sanitizer once you get back to your seat. For bonus points, bring a sanitizing wipe and wipe down the tray table, arm rests, and seat belt buckle.

      I feel a little better knowing planes aren't quite the disease factories I thought they were. How about you?

      Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash.

    • I recently bought a little UV wand for traveling. I feel like an idiot waving it around my tray table, but it sure beats spending the second half of every trip with a sore throat. Also tiger attacks.

      I just wish it buzzed or shot fire or something so that it felt more like science than magic.

    • I hadn't thought of using UV! Do you know if those wands are powerful enough to kill UV-resistant things like adenovirus? I had an adenovirus once and it was...very unpleasant.

      For sanitizing surfaces like tray tables I use these antibacterial wipes since they don't take up any space in my bag. The primary ingredient is benzethonium chloride, which is apparently more effective than alcohol alone at killing norovirus.

    • It's important to note that the study you linked to from the NY Times was only assessing the likelihood of catching the influenza A or B viruses specifically. Make no mistake, those are awful infections to catch. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of other viruses that cause upper respiratory infections (including the adenoviruses you mentioned), and traveling on an airplane will expose you to a lot of them. A study done in 2002 found that 20% of individuals who flew on a commercial aircraft developed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection within a week (, but a lot of doctors (including myself) suspect that the true risk for catching an upper respiratory infection after being on a plane is much higher. Most of these infections are spread via droplet transmission, which means that you can get them from being coughed or sneezed on or from touching objects that have recently been touched by people that are sick. The best way that I have found to minimize your risk in this regard is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently and to wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom.

      Using a UV wand is a fascinating idea. UV can quickly kill bacteria on hard surfaces, though the effectiveness of it can apparently be limited by the presence of organic matter (more here: If anyone else has had more experience with the UV wands I'd love to hear about it.

    • Thanks for pointing that out! I've updated my post to refer specifically to "the flu" rather than "respiratory viruses like the flu". 👍

    • Huh, I'm surprised by the study results. I had believed that the air recirculating through the plane tended to distribute germs. Glad to know that isn't the case!

      Of course, I still feel like I tend to get sick while traveling for work, but that's probably related to just going into the office instead of only interacting with my cats all day.

    • My understanding is that the air in an airplane cabin is actually very clean. I think the primary dangers, as @SBean mentioned, are suspended droplets and contaminated surfaces.

      One piece of advice that was also mentioned in the NY Times article is to turn on your air vent and point it at the floor to help push suspended droplets downward and away from your face. Seems reasonable.

    • My husband and I travel a lot, both domestically and internationally. We prefer essential oils over Airborne or hand sanitizers with checmicals. I swear by them and neither of us have not gotten sick once from flying.

    • If people are flying with anyone with compromised immunity, or has it themselves, there's also the recourse of a surgical mask for that person. It looks weird, but it's certainly better than the alternative.

    • The air in the cabin is really not that bad normally; An airplane is not as 'closed' as you may think. It leaks quite a bit of air that is replenished with new to keep the pressurization on par. The air in the cabin is then a mix of fresh/outside air and recirculated air, normally. The recirculated air is filtered. As long as those filters are changed every now it is pretty 'clean' air in the cabin.