Are you one of the travelers that always seems to catch that infamous airline cold? Well it may not be the plane and passengers next to you making you sick…it may actually be the airport. That’s right, forget that coughing, sneezing passenger next to you on the plane…it could be the airport you just took off from that makes you sick.
A new study from a team of experts from the UK’s University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, have published in the BMC Infectious Diseases journal that those airport security plastic trays are the biggest culprit for spreading germs in airports.
The team monitored germ levels on a variety of surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the winter of 2016. Germaphobes will be horrified to find out that they found evidence of viruses on 10% of all the surfaces they tested, picking up traces of rhinovirus, the source of the common cold, and of the influenza A virus. They found traces on half the luggage trays, more than on any of the other surfaces they tested. None of these viruses were found on toilet surfaces at the airport, they said.
Other germ hotspots were shop payment terminals, staircase rails, passport checking counters, children’s play areas and, unfortunately, in the air.
So next time you’re dumping your phone and laptop into the tray — it might be worth having the hand sanitizer handy.
Even if you avoid airport germs, previous studies have shown airplanes are equally as dirty. A 2015 study from Travelmath reported that the tray table was the number one offender, with overhead air vents also among the most germ-filled surfaces.
Your best bet? Wash your hands as much as possible, keep the trusty hand sanitizer on standby and wear socks in the security line up…not bare feet. Just think of how many people have walked on that carpet before you!
There are other precautions you can take too of course to avoid catching anything:
If you’re grabbing food in the airport pre-flight, be sure to head to the washroom first and wash your hands immediately after security. In a rush? hand sanitizer.
If you can, try to use a tissue or a paper towel to open bathroom doorknobs and to touch toilet handles. I have also heard that closing the lid before flushing the toilet helps prevent the spread of germs throughout the plane bathroom so you might want to do this as well. Of course, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the washroom on a plane or in an airport.
Another step you can take is to avoid the water fountain- consider buying bottled water instead. Yes it may cost more and isn’t sustainable, but if it’s cold season or you can’t be sick for a work trip- make the splurge.
You might think you’re home free from there as the plane is cleaned between flights…right? Well it’s not, really. Removing trash is one thing but cleaning the surfaces and the thoroughness of cleanings is up to the airlines. Technically the aircraft can be used dozens of time before deep cleanings. Meaning, you have to take care of your area yourself. The tray table, the armrests, window shade and the toilet handle are areas where bacteria can live for up to a week on airplanes that aren’t properly cleaned. You should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a small pack of disinfectant wipes. You can always transfer wipes in Ziploc bags if you have a bigger containers at home. The first thing I do when I sit down is wipe down the armrest and tray table because that’s where my arms will be. You need to disinfect where you’ll be spending your time and eating.
I also personally don’t take the airline pillows and blankets. I bring my own inflatable neck pillow and some layers to keep warm, like a soft oversized jacket and/or scarf. You never know how frequently those pillows and blankets are washed.
I like to bring a decongestant with me, too. A cold can creep up on you during a multi-hour flight and if your ears become blocked you might have a painful landing. A decongestant will help with that.
The dry plane cabin air tends can also dry out your nasal membranes, which are the immune system’s main line of defense. I like to use a nasal spray to keep everything functioning the way it should be. I also put a tiny bit of antibiotic ointment at the base of my nostrils to protect myself even further but you should consult your doctor before doing this.
The high altitude and low humidity of a plane have a dehydrating effect, which can cause headaches, stomach cramps and fatigue. All of this can lead to your immune systems inability to fight off a sickness. Stay hydrated by regularly sipping water before, during, and after your flight. I don’t recommend drinking the plane tap water as it has been found to contain levels of bacteria in the past, but the water from bottles that the flight attendants serve is perfectly okay. You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol which can contribute to dehydration.
Follow these tips so you don’t get sick the next time you fly. Happy travels!