How to Avoid the Risk of Air Travel Germs This Summer

How to Avoid the Risk of Air Travel Germs This Summer

Dave Shumaker


By Dave Shumaker

Microbiology Scientist, GOJO Industries

It’s that time of year again! The kids are out of school, so the family vacation can’t be far behind.  If you plan on flying, take a few easy precautions to protect everyone’s health. 

Bacteria can live in the closed environment of a plane for weeks. ABC News1 stated in May  that high bacteria counts can be found throughout airplanes, especially on tray tables, window shades, seat pockets, armrests, and the lavatory. 

It stands to reason that  food tray contamination can be caused because we eat mid-flight, often putting our meals right on germy table trays. And since airplanes from major carriers can make up to seven flights a day, the seats being used by your loves ones could have already hosted up to six other passenger meals. While planes are cleaned between flights, it isn’t always enough. 

According to CNN Travel,seat pockets can carry germs that cause the common cold and influenza A, B, and C viruses. Unsurprisingly, the airplane lavatory is home to fecal bacteria such as E coli.  Influenza, diarrhea, and even MRSA, the deadly superbug, can be contracted from the food trays. 

Good hand hygiene is an easy and highly effective way to help fight germs while traveling by air. Here are a few tips:

  • Go to the bathroom and wash up in the airport. Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same.
  • Practice hand hygiene with soap and water, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

    • Before eating
    • Before and after caring for or coming in contact with anyone who is sick
    • After using the restroom
    • After sneezing or coughing
    • After touching any surface that may be a transmission vector of infection-causing germs, such as handrails, table trays, arm rests, door handles, and trash.

More Air-Traveling, Germ-Fighting Advice

With help from the website Renegade Health,3 here are some more tips that can help you and your family fight off germs while airborne this travel season:

  • Carry disinfectant wipes. Wipe down those germy areas. You can also carry a small bottle of PURELL® Advanced Instant Hand Sanitizer.
  • Don’t touch your face. When your hands touch your face, germs contracted aboard the plane can easily be transmitted inside your body.
  • Try to sit near the front of the plane. There is usually better airflow here. Also, keep in mind that aisle seats get touched more.
  • Avoid coffee and tea. The water on planes can contain E. coli which can cause stomach cramps. The same goes for coffee and tea, which never gets hot enough to boil, so the waterborne germs aren’t necessarily killed.
  • Take your own pillows and blankets. Those provided aren't always cleaned or replaced between flights. They could breed germs like Aspergillus niger that cause pneumonia and infections.
  • Don’t read the magazines. They’ve been touched by countless hands. Instead, bring your own reading material.

Now, with these sensible precautions in mind, focus on having some fun this summer!  As a microbiologist, I am always interested to know how others stay healthy while traveling, so share your healthy travel tips.  

1 "Germs on a Plane: Look What They Found on Board." ABC News. May 27, 2014. http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/germs-plane-found-board-23803344
2 Wright, Douglas, "6 places germs breed in a plane." Cable News Network, Dec. 22, 2010. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/12/22/bt.germs.breed.on.plane/
3"Where Germs Lurk on Airplanes-and 10 Ways to Keep from Getting Sick." Renegade Health. May 27, 2014. http://renegadehealth.com/blog/2013/08/14/where-germs-lurk-on-airplanes-and-10-ways-to-keep-from-getting-sick

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