After months of planning and saving, you’re finally ready for that long-awaited tropical vacation. You pack your bags, board your flight, and after long hours of flying, you finally reach your picturesque destination. However, before you can unpack your swimsuit and go for a dip in the ocean, you come down with a terrible fever. For the rest of the trip, you are confined to your hotel bed. How would that feel?
While illness is never fun, the repercussions of becoming sick on a vacation run far deeper than the physiological consequences of it. If a highly anticipated trip is ruined, it can become a cause of mental agony and depression.
So, what could cause this? During travel, the most predominant cause of illness in healthy people is from germs contracted on the airplane. Let us uncover which areas on the plane you need to stay cautious of, and what safe behaviors you need to follow so that you don’t become the next victim of infectious diseases while traveling.
Which Areas Inside the Airplane Carry the Most Germs?
Inside the airplane, you are bound to come across some high-touch surfaces which are the hotspots for germs. We have listed the areas with the highest germ concentration, as found in numerous surveys. We will go through some safety measures you can employ to reduce the risk of sickness while dealing with these areas specifically.
The tray table is the real villain in disguise that no one suspects. It has the highest concentration of germs in the whole plane. Passengers before you have put baby diapers, used tissues, food crumbs, bags that were lying on the floor, their dirty hands, and all sorts of items on it. And the flight crew does not get enough time between flights to clean all the tray tables in the entire airplane. So, here are some suggestions that can save you from getting sick:
- Wipe the tray table down with alcohol-based sanitary wipes
- Lay some napkins on the surface before placing anything on it
- Do not put food directly onto the tray table
- Don’t touch food with your bare hands (use any cutlery available)
- Sanitize your hands thoroughly before and after using the tray table
Seat Belt Buckles
Every flier is bound to touch the seat belt buckle at least twice during their flight. And it can’t be expected of the cabin crew to clean every single seatbelt buckle in the airplane. Hence, your safety is in your own hands here. You can do one of two things here:
- Use disposable gloves
- Sanitize your hands after locking or unlocking the seat belt buckle
Overhead Air Vents
The dials on the overhead vents are one of the most high-touch areas in a plane that remain uncleaned. However, this does not imply that you should keep them closed to avoid the chances of getting sick. The air vents help air circulate, which is necessary inside a tight compartment packed with numerous people. Most of these air vents use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters which remove airborne germs and other pernicious particles that could harm you. So, you ought to turn them on. Here are some safe ways of doing it:
- Use hand sanitizer after touching the dial
- Get the person sitting near the air vent to do it for you
- Ask the flight attendant for help
An average passenger airliner has approximately one lavatory for every 50 passengers. The number of passengers per lavatory may decrease if you are flying first class on a premium airline, and it can increase if you are using budget commercial aviation. The fact remains that the lavatory is one of the germiest places on an aircraft. Ideally, you should use the airport restroom before boarding a short flight to avoid using the airplane lavatory altogether. However, on longer flights it’s simply unavoidable to use it at least once. In that event, you need to remain extra cautious while using such an unsanitary public restroom. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Use paper napkins or towels to operate the door handle, flush button, garbage can, and water faucets
- Wash hands with soap/handwash for a minimum of 20 seconds after using the toilet
- Close the toilet lid before flushing
- Do not touch any exposed surface of your body while inside
- Avoid unnecessarily touching the ashtray, change table, railings, cabinets, mirrors, toiletries, commode seat, and other surfaces
- Do not spend more time inside the lavatory than needed
- Use hand sanitizer after getting back to your seat (even if you have washed your hands)
Passengers before you have put all their dirty germ-ridden belongings into the seat pocket. Most people use it as a trashcan for their unwanted items, from used napkins to changed diapers. While it may serve as a convenient storage space, when you put anything into the seatback pocket, it is immediately contaminated with bacteria and viruses. One of two options are viable here:
- Wipe down your commodities with disinfectants after taking them out of the seat pocket
- Use a personal carryon bag to store things (preferably)
Research shows that passengers in aisle seats are most prone to contracting germs during a flight. These pathogens are passed on from the people walking either towards or from the lavatory, which is a hotspot of germs. Transmission is usually caused by passengers leaning on the aisle headrest while passing by. Hence the aisle seats, especially those near the restroom, are not a good place to sit. Ideally, a window seat is the most desirable. But even a middle seat can do wonders for saving you from contagious diseases. Here are some ways to secure a good seat:
- Choose an airline that allows you to select your seat
- Use the airplane seat layout option during flight booking or check-in to choose the desired seat
- In case the aircraft is changed by the airlines, ask the gate agent to give you a window seat (you may have to pay an extra fee)
- Trade seats with another passenger who is interested in your aisle seat
Some Travel Safe Behaviors on the Airplane
There is more to averting health hazards than exercising caution only in the most high-risk areas of the plane. You also need to follow certain travel safe protocols under all circumstances, no matter how harmless they might seem. Let’s take a glance at some precautionary measures now.
- Wear a cloth mask or disposable mask. Do not use an N95 mask with a vent/valve, since it does not filter the air you exhale, leaving everyone in danger. Carry extra masks, and only remove the mask while eating and drinking.
- Use hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration of at least 60%.
- Get plenty of sleep before your flight, to have a better-prepared immune system.
- Stay hydrated so your mucous membrane doesn’t dry out. Low hydration makes your body more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. Bring your own bottle of water. Don’t consume alcoholic beverages, salty foods, or coffee, as they will further dehydrate you.
- Wipe down your armrests. Discard tissues and other contaminated items immediately after use.
- Use hand sanitizer after touching seat cushions, in-flight entertainment equipment, and other high-touch surfaces.
- Don’t touch your face (eyes, mouth, nose, ears) at any point. Wear gloves as an active reminder.
- Take probiotics and increase vitamin C intake for enhanced immunity.
- Speak with strangers at a distance. Avoid contact with sick people. Switch seats with the flight attendant’s help if you are seated near a sick person.
- Do not board a flight if you are feeling sick. The health of your fellow passengers is just as important as yours.
- Get travel medical insurance or travel insurance so you can have financial protection from high medical bills in case you do get sick abroad.
- Put your clothes in the laundry after you get off the flight. If you can’t wash them immediately, store them separately in a bag. Do not wear them again until properly washed and disinfected.
Have a Safe Flight
Now that we have uncovered the hygiene standards and consequent health risks on airplanes, it is understandable if the idea of flying feels intimidating to you. While it is true that germs are present in all possible nooks and crannies of planes, the same rings true for all public places and transport systems. This doesn’t mean you need to stay cooped up in your room all year round. If you follow the safety protocols mentioned here and don’t let your guard down, you can minimize your risk.
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