7 Tips to Stay Healthy While Flying in America

With the latest Ebola outbreak, everyone’s on edge and rightfully terrified of contracting this, or some other life threatening disease. As a lifelong traveler who has flown on over three dozen carriers around the world and in America, I’m sharing my tips here on how to stay healthy specifically while flying in America. For the most part, international airlines take greater precaution in cleaning their aircrafts, especially the kitchen and lavatories.

Great experiences with carriers like Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Emirates have made me love international flights. I can’t say the same about flying domestically within the United States unfortunately. With the exception of JetBlue, I have flown on every single carrier in existence in the United States between the 1980’s and today. From personal experiences, those of family and friends and from speaking with flight attendants, here are flying tips to keep you healthy as much as humanly possible.

Wipe down your tray table with a sanitizing wipe. Even if you only fly a few times a year, you must have heard the rampant rumors about how the seat tray tables are just about the filthiest spaces on an aircraft, possibly even more so than the bathrooms. Imagine if you will, the thousands of passengers that touch that tray table with their bacteria-infested hands- some of them sick with a flu (or worse), some of them have bad habits of not washing their hands after going to the restroom (think feces and urine), and most domestic American carriers do not actually take the time to wipe down and sanitize those tray tables after every flight. If we’re lucky, they’ll do it once a week- after thousands of passengers have transferred their germs onto what is now your dining table. If you must use this tray table, simply wipe it thoroughly with a sanitizing wipe (brought by you, don’t dream the carriers will have them on board). Many sanitizing wipes from reputable companies will kill nearly all bacteria and viruses. Even after wiping it down, avoid placing food directly on that surface (nuts, pretzels, etc.). If you’re not convinced, think of the recent litany of grotesque parents who use these tray tables as changing stations for their babies’ soiled diapers. Just imagining it makes me gag.

Wipe down your seat belt with a sanitizing wipe. Everything from above applies here as well. While those disgusting parents aren’t using your seat belt as a diaper changing station, they may very well have just touched feces, unbuckled their belt (now your belt) to get up and throw away the diaper.

Avoid non-bottled beverages on board. Skip the coffee, tea and tap water on board. I’ve heard from several flight attendants that the container that houses on-board water are breeding grounds for all types of bacteria since they’re rarely or never cleaned out. Further, water used for coffee and tea are typically not heated to high enough temperatures to kill any present bacteria. Worst of all is if you ask simply for ice water or room temp water- that’s not heated at all. If you want water, ask for bottled water. If they’ve run out, opt for bottled or canned drinks. Believe me, those of you who are health conscious about sugary drinks (like I am)- we’re far better off with that unwanted dose of sugar than we are with some horrible bacteria. Best case scenario- bring your own bottled water or beverage.

Use a hoodie or scarf to cover your head. Those of you who’ve flown on reputable international carriers are probably familiar with the headrest placemats that they throw out and renew at every stop. Those are awesome little details that domestic American carriers fail to implement to protect our heads from nasty bugs like lice, which can embed themselves into seats made out of fabric. If you happen to be on an aircraft that has leather or faux-leather seats (usually available in first class), it’s still a good idea to wipe down any surface area that your head/hair may be touching. Even if the risk of lice or other bugs is low, do you really want to rub your head all over someone else’s oily remains? If you can’t be bothered to wipe the seat down or are embarrassed about it, just bring a hoodie or a scarf to protect your head.

Sanitize your hands even after washing with soap and water in the lavatory. Remember that same water you don’t want to drink? While there’s quite a bit of debate between industry experts and other journalists reporting on this subject who argue on both sides of whether lavatory water is actually safe and “clean enough” for washing hands, I prefer to always err on the side of caution. Use that hand sanitizer you brought after washing your hands. Make it your best friend while flying. Make sure to use hand sanitizers that contain well over 60% alcohol though; lower than that won’t do much to kill off bacteria and viruses.

Avoid touching the in-flight magazines. Just how we want to avoid touching that dirty tray table, the in-flight magazines are potentially just as dirty but we don’t have the option of wiping those down. If you find yourself thoroughly bored and must flip through them, again, sanitize your hands afterwards.

Bring surgical masks. Most reports available on this subject agree that face masks don’t prevent small particles/airborne bacteria from attacking you. While this may be true, face masks do, at least, stop your seat mate’s sneezing fluid from landing directly on your face, in your nostrils and in your mouth. A few alternatives have cropped up in recent years, including a device called nose filters. These products are too new on the market to determine whether they are truly effective in filtering bacteria and viruses but the companies that produce them certainly make some interesting claims that give hope if they do indeed work. Here are a couple of companies that produce nose filters:
Please note that I have not tried any of these nose filters and are not promoting them.

Travel on and stay healthy!