On average, 1.73 million passengers fly every day in the United States, 25% of these travelers catch a cold or flu during their flight. Poor air circulation, close proximity with a large group of people, limited and often poor food options, travel stress, and sleep deprivation make up the perfect cocktail for a vulnerable and exposed immune system. With the current outbreak of the coronavirus that has been deemed a public health emergency by the U.S. government and the aggressive flu strains of the season, passengers are becoming more and more concerned about the risks of catching a virus on their next flight. Although it might feel inevitably hopeless that you might become the 1 in 5 that will catch a cold or flu on your next flight, there are active steps you can take to reduce your risk.
We asked a group of frequent flyers to share their tips for staying healthy on long flights; here is what we found:
Get plenty of sleep before departure
The best line of defense against germs and viruses is a strong immune system. Sleep is the #1 immune booster there is. Getting plenty of restful sleep before your flight is a great way of boosting your immune system so it better withstands exposure to bacteria and viruses during your travel. Health professionals recommend eight hours of sleep for optimal immune functions.
Drink lots of liquids before, during, and after the flight
Our bodies need to be properly hydrated to fight off disease-causing pathogens. Proper hydration helps boost immune functions and allows for a proper release of toxins from the body. We recommend that you bring your own bottle and ask the flight attendants to fill it up for you so you can have ready access to water at all times. Avoid adult beverages, overly sweet drinks, and excessive caffeine use all of which jeopardize the body’s ability to fight off germs and viruses.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet
A balanced and healthy diet is a great line of defense against illnesses. Stay away from fast food, food with high sugar content, and processed foods. Instead, opt-in for fresh vegetables, fruits, greens, and light meals like oatmeal, cheese plate, or chicken sandwiches which are often available to purchase on the flight.
Get proper exercise before departure
Moderate exercise has been proven to boost immune functions. Squeezing in a workout session before leaving on travels can not only improve your body’s ability to fight off disease, but it can also help you get more restful sleep, and reduce travel stress both of which are critical to proper immune defense.
Take immunity measures
Besides proper sleep, diet, and exercise, there are other active steps you can take to boost your immune system. Taking supplements like Zinc, Vitamin C, Elderberry Extract, Oregano Oil, and Echinacea is a great way of giving your immune system a better chance to fight off pathogens. You might also like to consider getting the flu vaccine which will help protect you against most strains of the flu virus and reduce your chance of contracting the flu on the flight.
Keep sinuses hydrated
The unhealthy and often dry air on the planes paired with high air pressure can run havoc on the sinuses. Maintaining proper moisture in the nasal passages moist is critical for sinus health and an important line of defense against airborne viruses and bacteria. We recommend always flying with a bottle of saline nasal spray which not only helps keep the sinuses moist, but it also helps flush out airborne viruses and bacteria from nasal passages.
Bring sanitary wipes & hand sanitizer
Airplanes are notorious for being one of the most germ-dense places. Tray tables, armrests, seat belts, bathroom surfaces, and seat pockets contain a shocking number of germs and are some of the most unsanitary surfaces you can ever come in contact with. With the alarming rise of the coronavirus which appears to be predominantly spreading through deposits on surfaces, it is imperative to ensure that you wipe down all airplane surfaces before touching. We recommend carrying alcohol-based sanitary wipes at all times. Furthermore, we recommend carrying a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol content on board to regularly disinfect your hands.
Don’t touch your face
The majority of virus transmissions happen through the nose and the eyes. It is therefore imperative to remember not to touch your face to the best of your ability during travel or make sure to use a hand sanitizer before you do. If you are using an eye mask or face mask, make sure to keep it in a sealed plastic bag to avoid picking up germs from seat surfaces.
Use the air circulation
Regardless of the temperatures on the plane, it is recommended that you keep the air circulation vents above your seat open on the medium setting throughout the flight to avoid airborne germs depositing on you or the surfaces around you.
Choose a window seat
When possible, opt-in for a window seat especially on long flights. Window seats guarantee less exposure to airplane germs and airborne viruses. Airplane ventilations are designed so that the airflow exits through the floor vents by the windows providing considerably more airflow to passengers sitting at window seats. Furthermore, window seats provide considerably less exposure to other passengers (and potential germs and viruses they might carry) than aisle seats as do seats further away from lavatories. It is therefore recommended to choose a window seat away from the lavatories to reduce exposure.
Airplanes can be a dangerous breeding ground for viruses and bacteria but there are many action steps you can take to reduce exposure to diseases and support your immune system in fighting off viruses and bacteria if exposed. A few simple steps can go a long way in keeping you healthy on and off the plane.