We have all had the experience of sitting next to someone on the subway, in a movie theater or at a meeting whose phlegmy, hacking cough makes us change our seats and speed dial our doctor for some prophylaxis. While traveling, moving out of the viral line of fire is not so easy. We are confined to our seats, not knowing the health history of the people who are rubbing our elbows, passing us our pretzels and awkwardly climbing over us to use the bathroom. We are sharing intimate quarters with hundreds of other people, many of whom are snotty kids, some of whom are ill, some of whom will become ill within the next 48 hours and are at their most contagious. It is the frenzied equivalent of a bacterial and viral rave – these little buggers don’t need Ecstasy, they want to be all over you even without it.
How do you protect yourself against contracting an illness on a plane?
1. Support your immune system – The same things that you do to avoid getting sick in the winter can help you in the week or weeks before you travel. Get ample sleep, eat healthy, increase fruits and vegetables, and cut down on caffeine. Increase your intake of vitamin C, vitamin E and Zinc either in your diet or by taking supplements.
2. Avoid dehydration – Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your flight. As much as it pains me to say it, avoid alcohol. There will be plenty when you land. Staying well hydrated will help your immune system function at its best and prevent your skin and nasal passages from becoming dry and cracked. This will help prevent bacteria and viruses from crossing into your body.
3. Clean your area when you board – Don’t be embarrassed to wipe down your seat, your armrests and your tray table with antibacterial wipes. This type of behavior used to get people labelled as OCD. Now, you will just get funny looks. That is better than having the stomach flu on vacation or during your work conference.
4. Clean yourself – I’m not saying that you are dirty, but … Truthfully, after you leave the bathroom, futz with the volume and channel buttons, adjust the air flow and fall asleep with your cheek against the window, you are a walking petri dish. As long as you don’t touch your face, you should be fine. Bring some antibacterial cleanser and rub it on your hands every hour or so. When you get to your final destination, change all of your clothes and burn them – or wash them in hot water.
5. Over the counter prevention – Products like Airborne claim to boost the immune system prior to being in crowded areas or at the first sign of a cold. The effectiveness of these supplements has never been proven. The main ingredients are usually vitamin C and echinacea. While they are not FDA-tested, they probably won’t hurt you.
I have a friend who recommends bringing a lint brush and sweeping your seat if it is made of fabric. I have a friend of a friend who recommends putting neosporin in your nostrils. I have seen people wear masks on their faces. We are a germophobic society. Do whatever you need to ensure that you have a flight safe from germs. The only thing worse than being sick, is being sick away from home.