There’s nothing worse than taking a flight when cold and flu season is in full swing. Combine the confined space with that nonstop cougher across the aisle, and you’re almost guaranteed to wake up at your destination with a scratchy throat. Fortunately, with a little education and preparation, you can dodge any viruses that come your way, even if you find yourself sharing a seat with your neighbor’s gross used tissues.

Why is it easier to pick up the cold or flu on a plane? Many of us seem to have an easier time getting sick when flying. While many people believe it’s due to the “recycled air” on flights, that’s actually a bit of a myth. In general, most planes use a 50/50 mix of outside and recycled air, while some planes actually use more outside air. Additionally, newer airplanes are equipped with HEPA air filters that capture 99.9% of particles, including airborne viruses.

Tray Tables Up

Tray tables can often be carrying a lot of germs. (Photo credit: nep)

So what’s the real culprit? Well, aside from any sick people in your immediate area, it’s actually the germs that linger on the surfaces you touch — the seatback tray, arm rests, seat, and so on. You know, the areas of the plane that dozens of people have touched, rested on… maybe even drooled on? And let’s be honest, those airplane bathroom sinks don’t really lend themselves to a good hand washing. To prevent picking up a virus from the surfaces on the plane, wipe everything down with an antibacterial wipe, use hand sanitizer while in-flight and give your hands a good washing with anti-bacterial soap when you first arrive at your destination.

Another common cause of the post-flight virus is low cabin humidity. At very low levels of humidity, we become dehydrated and the mucus in our noses and throats (i.e. our natural defense system) dries up, making it that much easier for germs to invade our system. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to stay well-hydrated while traveling. Drink plenty of water before and during your flight and consider using saline nasal drops to keep your sinuses hydrated.

The next time you’re getting ready to fly, don’t forget to stock up on antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and perhaps a few vitamin C tablets for good measure.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for staying healthy while flying? Share with us in the comments section.