Where Germs Lurk on Planes

Waiting, 3 AM, Milano Airport
Waiting, 3 AM, Milano Airport

Flying is stressful enough, but getting sick as a result of traveling is even worse.

Air travelers suffer higher rates of disease infection, research has shown. One study pegged the increased risk for catching a cold as high as 20%. And the holidays are a particularly infectious time of year, with planes packed full of families with all their presents—and all those germs.

Air that is recirculated throughout the cabin is most often blamed. But studies have shown that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters on most jets today can capture 99.97% of bacterial and virus-carrying particles. That said, when air circulation is shut down, which sometimes happens during long waits on the ground or for short periods when passengers are boarding or exiting, infections can spread like wildfire.

One well-known study in 1979 found that when a plane sat three hours with its engines off and no air circulating, 72% of the 54 people on board got sick within two days. The flu strain they had was traced to one passenger. For that reason, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an advisory in 2003 to airlines saying that passengers should be removed from planes within 30 minutes if there’s no air circulation, but compliance isn’t mandatory.

Much of the danger comes from the mouths, noses and hands of passengers sitting nearby. The hot zone for exposure is generally two seats beside, in front of and behind you, according to a study in July in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(click here to continue reading Where Germs Lurk on Planes – WSJ.com.)

and even the security check-in area is a pit of filth and disease:

You think the plane is bad? Security checkpoints harbor a host of hazards as well, researchers say.

Jason SchneiderAirport security areas can make it easy to get sick. People are crowded together, and plastic storage bins that hold personal effects are not cleaned after each screening.
People get bunched up in lines, where there is plenty of coughing and sneezing. Shoes are removed and placed with other belongings into plastic security bins, which typically don’t get cleaned after they go through the scanner.

Layers of Weakness

Layers of Weakness

So, other than having a healthy immune system, what to do?

According to Scott McCartney:

  • Drink lots of water. Dry air is a ideal place for viruses, and plane air has hardly any humidity. You can go so far as to spray your own nasal passages to keep them moist.
  • Clean your hands frequently.
  • Avoid touching the seat-back pockets. Who knows what lurks there? Likewise be wary of the tray tables. Some viral particles can live for 24 hours.
  • Aim your air vent in front of your face – it can keep airborne particles from landing on you. Well, possibly.
  • Avoid airline pillows and blankets – they are rarely, if ever, sanitized.

Or else, be part of the 1%, and get a private plane…

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