As I type this story, I’m well into my second week of bronchitis, which I’m sure I contracted in an airplane. I used to go to a lot of trouble to avoid getting sick on a plane. I’d bring Airborne on board and take it throughout the flight, as well as the first day on land. And I’d bring my secret weapon: a homemade concoction of essential oils known to keep viruses at bay. I’d put it in a spray bottle and mist it around me every hour or so, and it really worked. But the on-board liquid ban made it more difficult to carry, and I eventually stopped bringing it. However, after catching a few airplane colds this year, I am determined not to make that mistake again. 

Airplanes are full of germs, and if you think the airlines are swabbing the plane down between flights, think again. I’ve seen a flight cleaning crew in action, and it was pretty pathetic. They mostly picked up trash and waved a cloth around. They didn’t even take the tray tables down, they just wiped the backs of the trays.

Last year TravelMath had microbiologists test four airplanes to find out how much bacteria resides on various airplane surfaces. They found 2,155 CFUs (colony-forming units) per square inch on tray tables, 285 CFUs on overhead air vent buttons, 265 CFUs on the toilet flush buttons, and 230 CFUs on seat belt buckles. For comparison’s sake, there are only 172 CFUs in your toilet at home. In addition, your airplane mates are potentially carrying germs that can be circulated throughout the plane through coughing, sneezing, and touching things.

To avoid getting sick on a plane, I recommend the following:

  • Bring antibacterial wipes onboard, and before you get comfortable, wipe down your seat, tray table, arm rests, seat belt buckle — anything that you might touch. 
  • Bring your own pillow and blanket.
  • Eat healthy and stay hydrated. (Do this in the days before your flight too. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep so your defenses aren’t down.)
  • Wear a scarf to keep your neck warm. You can bunch it up around your face to help keep your germs in and their germs out.
  • Take extra Vitamin C, Zinc, Airborne, or whatever your favorite cold-prevention remedy is.
  • Bring a spray to keep viruses at bay. If you’re handy with aromatherapy, you can make your own spray with essential oils and distilled water (basil, eucalyptus, and benzoin are good for breathing and clove is good for sore throats and fighting viruses, as is Thieve’s oil). Put it in a spray bottle (3oz. or less), shake it, close your eyes, and spray about 12″ from your face. Spray into your hands and inhale. You can take it in the bathroom with you as well if you’re concerned about your seat mate getting annoyed.
  • Keep your nasal passages moist. Flight Spray or even plain saline will help, or you can swab an ointment just inside your nostrils. This won’t necessarily kill germs, but might create a bit of a barrier.
  • Keep washing your hands! Use the hand wipes frequently, especially after visiting the bathroom and touching the door.

If you have any other tips, please share in the comment section.

Safe travels!

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