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 a record-breaking 30.6 million passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday. airplane travel

Despite the high concentration of people flying, 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.

MYTH: You are more likely to get sick on an airplane than in everyday life.
The House Subcommittee on Aviation found that the risk of contracting an airborne infection on a plane is very low. However, if you’re sitting behind, in front of, or across from another passenger who’s sick then your chances of catching their cough, cold, or flu increases by 80%. Window seats were found to be the safest for avoiding germs, while aisle seats were the most risky.

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.

MYTH: Airplanes are a hotbed for germs.
Yes, airplanes carry around a lot of germs, but one independent study found that the number of germs and microorganisms found on planes is actually lower than what you’d find in office buildings, on a city street and on public transportation like buses and trains.

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. 

Tips for Not Getting Sick on a Flight:

  • Try to stay at least 3 feet from people who are coughing/sneezing. If there are spare seats on your flight you can ask a cabin crew member if you can be moved further from a sick passenger.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially before eating.
  • Use hand-sanitizer.
  • Try to avoid touching your face, as germs can be transferred from your hands and enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Do not travel if you are sick.

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, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

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By WHBlogger 
11/24/2014 
Updated: 11/20/18

Instructions and Disclaimer: The content on this website is designed for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses. Always consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your health. 

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