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7 Ways to Avoid the Dreaded Post-Flight Flu

Planes and airports are filled with germs but there are a few things you can do to avoid that terrible post-flight flu.

Updated: 22 February 2022

Many travelers swear they get sick after every trip or holiday, and people are of the opinion that airplanes are plagued with bacteria and viruses. And they’re not wrong – planes and airports are filled with germs. But you can reduce the chances of getting sick after flying. Here’s our guide to avoiding post-flight flu.

How Airplanes Can Make You Sick After Flying

Airline carriers are almost impressive carriers of the common cold. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research, you may be 100 times as likely to catch a cold on a plane as in your normal day-to-day life.

The most likely culprit: extremely low cabin humidity. Most commercial airlines fly in an elevation range of 30,000 to 35,000 feet – this is where humidity runs at 10% or lower. And at low levels of humidity your body’s natural defense system of mucus in the nose and throat dries up, creating a much more tolerant environment for germs.

Add this to the fact that germs can survive for hours or days after the passenger who brought them on board has departed, and you have the recipe for post-flight flu. Besides the common cold and influenza, these bugs and viruses can cause everything from skin diseases and upset stomachs, with studies revealing that E. Coli can live on the plane for over a week.

Either way, you certainly run the risk of becoming sick on a flight from directly inhaling particles in the air from someone’s coughing or sneezing. You can also become sick if you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nasal passages.

The longer you are exposed to these things the more chance you have of getting ill. So, in theory, you are less likely to get sick after flying on shorter flights than long haul flights.

How to Avoid Post-Flight Flu

When it comes to combatting airplane germs, there are some ways to reduce your chances of getting sick after flying.

1. Board The Airplane Last

Cramped airplane cabins are breeding grounds for airplane germs. In fact, the best way to avoid getting sick after flying might be avoiding the crowds and queues waiting to board the airplane and those standing in the cabin while other passengers find their seats and pack their luggage away. Researchers suggests you’re better off boarding the airplane last, or at least staying away from the initial hordes of people.

2. Keep Your Hands As Clean As Possible

Your hands come into contact with so many different surfaces – especially while flying. So, keeping them clean will help reduce your chances of picking up cold and flu germs at the airport or during your flight. If you actually pay attention to how often you touch your face during the day, you’ll realize how easy it is to bring germs into contact with your nose, mouth, and eyes.

Cold and flu germs can survive for hours on most surfaces, so just assume the surface is dirty and wash or sanitize your hands after touching it. Understandably, it’s not possible to wash your hands every single time you touch a surface, so at least aim to wash your hands after using the bathroom or before you eat something. Carry a hand sanitizer with you to keep your hands clean on the go. 

Want to know how to get rid of a cold in 24 hours or less, click here.

3. Sanitize The Area Where You’re Sitting

Even though airplanes are sanitized by the crew before you embark, a little extra cleaning won’t hurt. Keep anti-bacterial sanitization wipes with you so you can clean your set, wipe down the tray table, arm rests, video monitor screen, etc.

4. Give Your System A Boost

Before you embark on your trip, try to increase your intake of nutrient-rich foods. Speak to your physician about a vitamin supplement. Even a simple vitamin C supplement is known to make a difference before traveling. Build up your immune system several days before your flight to give your body a better chance of fighting off those airplane germs.

5. Stay As Hydrated As Possible

Flying can be extremely dehydrating on its own but staying hydrated in the hours leading up to and during your flight will significantly benefit your immune system and help keep side effects like fatigue, cramps, and headaches at bay.

Your nose and throat are usually the first to feel the effects of dehydration, so increasing your water intake can prevent airplane germs from making you sick after your trip. You can also pick up a normal saline nasal spray from the pharmacy to keep your nasal passages from getting dry during your flight.

6. Keep Oral Hygiene In Mind

Many people forget how important dental hygiene is for warding off colds and flu. Your mouth carries germs too. A good mouth wash will keep your throat moist, but an anti-bacterial mouth wash can also provide you with some added protection during your flight. Most pharmacies stock travel-sized mouth washes that you can keep in your carry-on luggage.

7. Use The Overhead Vent To Your Advantage

Keep your seat’s overhead vent on to keep germs away from your face. To get the vent at the right angle, place your hands in your lap and make sure the air is hitting your hands. Unfortunately, it might not be realistic to keep this on throughout your flight, so the added protection of wearing a face mask during your flight is a good idea to keep airplane germs from making you sick.

Protect Yourself: Effective Strategies for Safeguarding Against Germs on a Plane

Protecting yourself from germs on a plane is crucial to ensure a healthy and comfortable journey. Firstly, maintaining good hand hygiene is paramount. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content and use it regularly, especially before eating or touching your face. Additionally, avoid direct contact with high-touch surfaces like seatbelt buckles, tray tables, and overhead bin latches. Consider using disinfectant wipes to clean these areas before settling in. Another effective measure is wearing a face mask throughout the flight, which acts as a barrier against airborne particles. Opt for a well-fitting mask that covers both your nose and mouth. 

Navigating Air Travel While Dealing with the Flu

Flying with the flu can be a challenging experience, both for yourself and those around you. It is important to consider the well-being of others and take necessary precautions. Firstly, if you are experiencing flu symptoms such as fever, cough, or body aches, it is advisable to postpone your travel plans if possible. Flying while sick can not only exacerbate your symptoms but also increase the risk of spreading the flu to fellow passengers. If rescheduling is not an option, make sure to inform the airline in advance so they can provide guidance and assistance. During the flight, adhere to proper hygiene practices by frequently washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wearing a mask throughout the journey can help minimize the transmission of germs. 

Feeling sick after flying is no fun, but it does happen. If you find yourself sick during your travels, the Air Doctor app is the quickest and easiest way to connect you with a medical professional near you.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.