people sitting in an airplane

There’s nothing ironic about these *coughs*…

If you’re on a plane, it usually means there’s an occasion involved. The big trip, the big meeting, the family reunion, whatever the occasion, it matters – and you want to enjoy it to the max. Enter: the airplane cold and worse, germs. Sales pitches just aren’t effective when they sound like “yes, we can increase revenue by *cough* ten *cough* percent”. Getting sick on the plane is simply the worst, so these common sense, science backed travel tips will keep you cough free, or at least help your chances.

a row of seats on an airplaneScarf

I did an interview on Canadian National Radio last year, and a noted microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba offered a brilliant, easy tip. Wearing a scarf is more than a fashion statement, it’s a line of defense. “Spray patterns” are everything on planes, and if you have your hand ready to go, and can quickly pull your scarf over your mouth and nose, studies show that you can greatly reduce the chance of picking up what others are putting out.

Self Cater

Travelers have an irrational “FOMO” when it comes to “free” stuff. Airplane food is still terrible, diet coke is still diet coke, but travelers can’t help but try it. By trying these things you’re forced into contact with others, and also forced to use your germ ridden tray table. Self catering with your own snacks, water and entertainment is the single greatest step to avoiding germs. The less you touch the better your chances.

a row of seats with monitors on the backTouch

Did you know that tray tables are found to carry more germs and bacteria than most toilet seats? Yeah. That’s a fact. And speaking of things that people touch, what do you think the story with your entertainment screen is going to be? A lot of smudgy fingers have touched those screens. Doubling down on the self catering point: the less you touch, the less likely you are to get sick. Download some amazing Netflix offline, grab a giant Toblerone and chill out.


The tray table, overhead bin and and lavatory are the three worst things to touch. If you can’t heed the advice of avoiding them, perhaps consider bringing some antibacterial wipes to purify the scene. Travel towelettes are everywhere and can greatly reduce the chance of getting the flu, common cold or any other plane illness.

Middle Seat

The pitfalls of the middle seat extend beyond the obvious. You’re twice as likely to pick something up, being sandwiched in the middle of two passengers. And if you’re an aisle person, you’re not much better off. Window seats provide the most privacy, and therefore less sneezing. Use your wrap around scarf to head off any nearby “achooos” and enjoy your corner. Exit rows and bulkheads are best, according to research.

a tray of food on a trayVent

Though it’s supposed to move constantly, air on planes tends to linger in one place, creating germ clouds. While efforts are made to filter the air, it’s far from a perfect science. If you want to help keep airborne illness away, keep your vents on. Even if they’re not pointed directly at your body, they should help to push air away from you.

Pre Cleanse

Smart travelers get their Vitamin C and other cold fighting vitamins and minerals in in the day before travel. When you’re tired, and or hungover, your body is weak to fight germs, so do yourself a favor and take it easy. Hydrate, up your vitamin intake and get your superfoods in. It’ll also help with jet lag, which is a nice plus…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. …and given their hygiene standards avoid BA at any cost since they don’t bother to clean their cabins even to the LCC level and expect customers to sleep in an inch of crumbs with wine and coffee stained seats and tables.

  2. + 1. It’s disgusting. The only thing worse than the lack of cleaning and filth on British Airways, is most British trains.

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