Of all the amusing questions I receive – and trust me, I receive some whoppers – there’s one I get more than most: how do you avoid getting sick, with all that travel? With Coronavirus rightfully scaring the living daylights out of people, the question is more relevant than ever. The answer: there’s pretty much at least 10 common things people do on planes which I never, ever do.
If you’ve avoided reading those articles about why you shouldn’t drink coffee on the plane, you’ve done yourself a disservice. Airplane water tanks are petri dishes, with water that’s been found to contain just about every bacteria and parasite under the sun. I wish that was a joke.
I don’t drink the tap water, or even use it to brush my teeth and neither should you. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill up in the airport, or use bottled if you must. No tap water typically means no coffee, tea or anything else that’s made with that water, just FYI. Even if the water isn’t the problem, the coffee pots aren’t the best either…
Read The Magazines
Airplane seats rarely get cleaned to the extent they should be, so how do you think the magazines fare? Think about hundreds of passengers each and every week putting their unwashed, sometimes greasy – or worse, germ filled – hands all over each page.
I never read the magazines or touch anything in the seat pocket in front of me. Watch the safety demo carefully and then keep your hands to yourself. Bring your own magazines, or better yet, read online. Waste of paper..
For once, and for all – it’s never okay to go barefoot on a plane. Socks, totally fine, but barefoot is not ok for you, or anyone else. Continuing the theme that planes are one of the most biologically terrifying places on and above the earth, any minor wounds could be exposed to potentially life threatening bacteria.
I wear socks at my seat, but any movement beyond that area I put on shoes, because glasses and other things do break, and you do not want to bleed in a pressurised environment.
Stay Seated For Too Long
Short flights are one thing, but if you’re in the air for more than a couple hours it’s absolutely crucial to get up, invigorate your body and promote good blood flow. Everyday, somewhere around the world, a person picks up a potentially life threatening blood clot from DVT.
Even on flights where I’m lucky enough to have a bed or room to spread out, I still make a point of getting up, stretching and trying to raise my heart rate just enough to keep things pumping well at altitude. New planes definitely help with better pressure, so seek them out where possible.
If you ask me, layers are the key to a happy travel experience. For starters, almost every environment in air travel is either too hot, or too cold. Layers help prepare and plan for both, but can also provide a health benefit. I was on a show once with a leading scientist studying disease control, and he noted that pulling a layer above your nose and mouth in the immediate aftermath of someone sneezing can greatly reduce your risk of actually taking the germs into your airways.
Since learning that that’s scientifically true, I’ve always worn a hoodie, scarf or additional layer to quickly pop over my nose, if someone is hacking away. Plus, I stay comfy, which is nice…
Put Valuables In Overhead Bins
Allover the world, there are actual crime syndicates that target overhead bins. It may sound weird, but it’s true. These groups wait until the lights are out when passengers are sleeping, and they make gut assessments about which bags may have a laptop, cash stash or something valuable. Too often, the person only realises what’s missing after the plane has landed, and even if they realise earlier, it’s not like you can strip search every passenger.
I usually try to fly carry on only – aka no checked bags – so I typically have a full sized bag in the overhead bin, but I never put anything valuable, or crucial in it. Passport, wallet, tablet, all that stuff stays in my backpack or pockets, somewhere within arms reach where only a brazen fool would attempt to steal it.
Argue With Cabin Crew
Ok, this may not keep you from getting sick, but it’s increasingly important advice. Cabin crew are not your enemy, even if they have power to trip on. Stay calm, know that even if they might be wrong, they run the show, and be the polite human you’re capable of being. Fights in the air mean planes get diverted, which means you may end up in a cold city when you thought you were going somewhere warm.
Even if I think I’m right, and the person is being unjustified in whatever they’re doing, nobody wins if you have an aggressive argument with airline personnel, and the stress isn’t helpful either. PSA – just shut up, move on.
Lose To Dehydration
If you’re going to drink on a plane, always drink at least equal, if not double the amount in water. If you don’t drink alcohol, still ply yourself with the water. Air travel is incredibly dehydrating, which not only makes you feel sub optimal, but also makes your glands more susceptible to picking up germs.
Basically, if I feel dehydrated going into a flight, it’s already game over, so I make a point of hydrating the day before and then keeping it up throughout the flight, even if there’s other liquids involved. I’m already fighting the elements with dry, artificial air, so being dehydrated makes it so much worse.
If you find yourself bored on a plane, you have only yourself to blame. Some airlines are awesome at stocking the latest releases, boxsets and classics, but others are simply terrible. Also, those screens are yet another petri dish, where people specifically tap away with their fingers, which may or may not have been in places you’d care not to know about. And no, the screens don’t get cleaned well, no matter what an airline may tell you.
If you’re reading this and don’t own a mobile phone or tablet, congrats, and let me know how that bunker is working out – but if you do, download some content for use on the plane. I always download more than I expect I’ll need, and using wireless headphones and my own screen greatly helps me avoid germs by touching things outside of my control.
Take My Shoes Off Before Take Off
A pilot once told me that one of the greatest mistakes a passenger can make is to take their shoes off before the plane successfully climbs into the sky, or touches down safely and comes to a halt. These are the two critical areas of flight, where the unlikely event of an emergency is more likely and if your shoes are off, you can get cut, trampled or immobilised because of it.
I always, always keep my shoes on until we’re a few thousand feet up in the air and make sure I’ve put them back on before the final approach. It makes perfect sense, and you do not want to hinder a thing in an emergency situation. Also, if you’re instructed to evacuate, don’t grab your bags.
Touch Anything I Don’t Need to
Last, but not least, just try not to touch anything. You don’t have to go too out there, but the more you self cater, the more you control what you touch. Screens are bad, but things like tray tables, where not only fingers but food hit the surface can be even worse.
I never reach too far down into a seat crevice, try to use a sleeve to tap or grab things that are part of the aircraft and just generally try to keep my hands away from any surface which might hold the thing that makes me every other passengers nightmare – a sniffling, coughing human seated within inches.