The Germy Facts about Thanksgiving Air Travel
Cold and flu season is ramping up just in time for the busiest travel season of the year. Airlines are expecting to see 24.6 million passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday. However, the American Lung Association has reported that up to 20 percent of these passengers will be bringing along more than just their luggage—they’ll also be carrying the influenza virus.
This is a substantial statistic but, in reality, the majority of Thanksgiving travelers will be able to visit their destination and return home healthy. Just how likely are you to get sick on an airplane? And, where do all of those germs live? Let’s bust some common myths about holiday air travel and find out the real germy facts about getting sick on a plane.
FACT: You are more likely to get sick on an airplane than in everyday life.
A 2004 study showed that colds are transmitted much easier on an airplane. In fact, when compared to life on the ground, colds are more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted while you’re up in the air. (WHY?)
MYTH: Your immune system functions the same on the ground and in the air.
When your ride is cruising at 30,000 feet, your immune system is crying out for help. What makes this happen? Low humidity.
Humidity levels are usually 10 percent or below at that elevation. Because of the extremely dry air, the mucus membranes in your nose, mouth, and throat dry out. Under normal circumstances, that mucus catches germs before they invade your body. But, when your passages are dry, germs get a free pass right into your body.
FACT: Airplanes are a hotbed for germs.
Yes, airplanes carry around a lot of germs. Thousands of people make their way through aircraft every day and, unfortunately, these planes are rarely disinfected. No organization regulates when they are cleaned, so it is up to each individual airline to set specifications. There usually is not much time to clean during layovers, so most of the cleaning is done overnight and, many times, even that is not very thorough.
Where are an airplane’s germiest places? The bathroom, the pull-down tray table, and aisle seats. Since the flu and common respiratory illnesses are rarely airborne, you’re most likely to pick up a sickness from these places.
MYTH: Everyone on the plane is at risk if one person has influenza.
Yes, you can get sick anywhere, anytime. But, on an airplane, the riskiest radius is within two rows around you. People within this proximity of a sick individual are the most likely to catch the sickness, but passengers beyond here will probably stay healthy.
The reasoning behind this is that airline airflow patterns circulate the air in segments—not from front to back. In addition, if you are close to a sick passenger, you are more likely to be hit with flying germs from a cough or sneeze.
Now that you know the facts from the myths, how will you protect yourself during this season’s holiday travels? The best protection really comes from the simplest tips: get a flu shot, wash your hands at least every 30 minutes, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 62-percent ethanol.
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