The Flu on an Airplane

How to Avoid Catching the Flu or Germs on an Airplane

The Flu on an Airplane

Germs on an Airplane

Unless you want to wear a bio-hazard suit, here is a list of what you can do to avoid catching the Flu or Germs on an airplane.

Every time you take your seat on an airplane flight, you’re traveling with some hidden companions, courtesy of the passengers (and those who came before you). No surprise that airline cabins, from the seats to the seat pockets and the tray tables and lavatories, are blanketed with germs.

Here’s a scary fact – the average human loses 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every hour, and our skin is covered in bacteria – some of which are harmful.

An estimated 1% to 2% of people in the U.S. may be carriers of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), for example, which can produce sores on the skin and be life-threatening if it enters the bloodstream, many without showing any symptoms.

According to National Air Traffic Controllers Association resources, there are an average 26,527 passenger flights per day and 5,000 aircraft in the sky at any given time over the United States.

The latest NATCA data also indicates that 928,900,000 passengers were served during 2016. That averages to more than 2.5 million passengers per day across the USA.

Especially during Flu Season, odds are that many of those travelers are likely carrying the flu on an airplane (or a ‘cold’)…

You might be shocked at the potential hazards of simply touching the seat-back pocket, the arm rests, tray tables, or the window shades while flying or on public transportation.

Bacteria is VERY LIKELY lurking on these places, waiting to infect you…

A recent study by researchers at Auburn University in Alabama – investigating to see where on a plane bacteria could live long enough to sicken passengers, was recently summarized by various news outlet reports:

Seat pocket: 8 days
Rubber armrest: 7 days
Leather seat: 7 days
Plastic window shade: 3 days
Plastic tray table: 3 days
Steel toilet handle: 2 days

The seat pocket is worse than the toilet handle! With its porous material and dark crevices, MRSA germs burrowed in there for eight days, while E. coli hunkered down in the armrest for seven days.


Use bathroom BEFORE heading to the airport.

Try to empty out your bladder beforehand and avoid hydrating too much before or during the flight. Why? Because you should avoid using the toilet on the plane.

Hand Sanitizers:

Study after study has shown that none of these is as effective against the spread of Norovirus as washing your hands with soap and water.

Alcohol-based gels or wipes do not kill Norovirus. Anything marked “antibacterial” but not “antiviral” may not necessarily kill viruses of any kind.

Check the ingredients.
Benzalkonium chloride and Benzethonium chloride ARE effective against Norovirus in concentrations of at least .013%.

Other than washing your hands with soap and water (recommended), you obviously cannot wash other surfaces in an airplane – which is why it’s recommended to carry sanitary wipes with you.

These Antibacterial Sanitary Hand Wipes ARE effective with 0.3% Benzethonium Chloride.


Don’t use the toilet on an airplane.

Unless you absolutely must go, stay out of the restroom. Typically there is approximately 1 toilet per 50 passengers on an airplane. Hundreds upon hundreds of people use these bathrooms during the day. Need I say more?

Better habits to avoid germs in airplane bathroom.

If you must go, use a napkin, towel, or ‘wipe’ to open the door latch. Then throw it away. Use your elbow to open the bathroom door inward.

Use a sanitary wipe and/or seat cover for the toilet. Note that not only the toilet, but the area around the tiny sink is notoriously teaming with germs.

Antibacterial Wipes, Singles
Anti bacterial hand wipe singles

Wash your hands (20 seconds) before leaving the bathroom!


Avoid the aisle seat.

While most people like the aisle seat, they are the most likely to contain germs,  infections, virus, flu, etc..

Why? Because passengers will use the aisle seats to stabilize themselves as they walk in the cabin aisle. If they’re sick or infected with the flu (or whatever), their hands may contaminate the surfaces that they contact. (Maybe they sneezed into their hands earlier, or wiped their nose…)

airplane seats

If it isn’t yours, don’t touch it.

Avoid touching surfaces that you don’t need to touch. Sometimes you must, however you have a choice.

For example don’t thumb through the magazines in the seat-back pocket in front of you. Bring your own reading material.

Clean the Arm Rests and Tray Table with Sanitary Wipes.

While presumably there is some sort of cleanup between flights , don’t count on disinfection. Bring your own.

Don’t use or touch the tray table unless you must. Otherwise, ‘wipes’.

Don’t use the seat-back pockets.

They tend to be filthy and accumulate all sorts of ‘stuff’ form other passengers.

With a sanitary wipe, clean your tray table (only if you’re going to touch it and use it).

If someone coughs or sneezes nearby, Hold Your Breath!

Hold it for (at least) several seconds. Longer if you can. Similarly, look away from the cough (particles can infect via the eyes too). The ventilation system will draw it away after a bit…

Airplane Ventilation System (How it works)

First, to dispel the myth that all air on an airplane is recirculated (and that you’re breathing everyone else’s air), today’s aircraft are always bringing in outside air and expelling ‘old’ air.

Briefly, this is how it works:

Fresh air from outside the plane is bled from the engine’s compressors then HEPA filtered, heated, and processed in an air conditioning pack, and pumped into the cabin. Cabin pressure is controlled to approximately 8,000 feet altitude by outflow valves.

Also, in most airplanes the filtered-renewed air does not flow from front to back, but from the ceiling to the floor. This also greatly minimizes cross-contamination of breathing someone else’s air – except from those immediately next to you.

Airborne – Immune Support Supplement
Airborne Immune Support

Don’t rub your Eyes, Nose, Mouth.

Don’t touch your potentially contaminated hands to your eyes, nose or mouth. This is primarily how the flu or other germs will ‘get in’.

Band Aid any cuts that you may have.

Preemptively make sure… if you have any cuts, deep scrapes or wounds that you have them covered up (band-aid, etc.). An exposed cut or even slight skin tear can be an easy entry point for the flu or other such germs into your bloodstream.


Make sure if you have any open wounds that you have them covered up (band-aid, etc.).

With a sanitary wipe, clean your tray table (only if you’re going to touch it and use it).

Similarly, Wipe your arm rests and head rest.

Do not use the seat back pockets if at all possible.

Make sure you wash your hands before you eat.

Wash your hands (20 seconds) before leaving the restroom.

Avoid aisle seats.

Avoid touching surfaces that you don’t need to touch.

If someone coughs or sneezes next to you, hold your breath for (at least) several seconds.

Similarly, look away from the cough (particles can infect via the eyes too).

Don’t rub your eyes.

Don’t touch your nose or mouth.

Here’s one: Avoid flying altogether!

Continue reading: When People Sick At Work Get YOU Sick

Read more: The Flu and How To Avoid It


  1. This article is about two weeks too late for us. Caught some “bug” from the last plane trip to see family. Even tho we do not use the bathroom on planes and we wipe down all the armrests and tray tables and seat belts with wipes, hubby and I both still got sick from the trip. Can’t help people coughing all over you. I sincerely hope that to be our last flight ever, but I doubt it. Grandkids are too precious to miss seeing! I will consider a mask for our next trip. HATE being sick!

  2. Thanks, Ken. I think next time I am on a flight I will not only carry wipes but also wear plastic gloves when needed. I always carry a N95 mask as well.
    When wearing plastic gloves remove them carefully. Pull the first glove off in a downwards motion which will turn it inside out. Place it in the palm of your other hand. Then remove the second glove in the same manner. This will put the first glove inside the second glove and both will be inside out.
    Stay frosty.

  3. If flying you will be exposed to germs. The good news is most of them won’t catch hold and infect you unless you are my wife. It is a given that if she gets on a plane she will get bronchitis. Most droplets from a cough fall to the floor within a few feet. If I have somebody actively coughing nearby we put on masks.

    If I have to sit on a toilet I make sure the lid is dry. Way too many people have an aversion to touching a toilet seat. Men will attempt to urinate through the opening and invariably get a few drops on the seat. (It is for this reason that most of us leave the seat in the upright position). After I have dried the seat I’ll use a disposable seatcover and if none available make one from TP. After I use it I’ll grab a piece of TP to work the flush handle with. Wash my hands and turn the faucets of with a paper towel, then wipe my hands dry and then use another towel to open the door handle with.

    I was once at a hospital conference and after three hours we were given a bathroom break. Two bathrooms and 90% female attendants. As I left the bathroom I looked at the lady about to enter and said, “It’s a men’s room, We leave the seat up”.

    1. Should have added. Visitors in the lobby with their kids crawling around and rolling on the floor. I’d ask them where do all the sick people go and they answer right here. I’d ask do they all have germs? They answer yes. I’d ask do some of those germs fall on the floor. Now they are starting to see the light and answer yeahhhh. Then I’d say we clean the floors regularly, then more people come in and drop more germs on the floor. Then I’d ask them do you really think it’s a good idea to let your kids play and roll around on the floor? They pick the kids up.

  4. Worked for an Airline for 5 years.
    I don’t fly the friendly sky’s for nada except overseas.

    Than Ken’s list would look minimal to mine….

    One little hint, wear a cheap set of clothing to fly in, wear a hat that hangs down over your ears, and gloves, once on the ground, find the nearest restroom and change clothes into some “clean”, than Plastic Bag the travel clothes and drop them off at a Dry Cleaners. Do NOT feel odd wearing a mask and using wipes (many MANY Wipes). Ever seen those funny little booties that Doctors and Nurses wear????? Ever wonder what CRAPO is in the carpet on a Plane.

  5. We have made the decision not to fly anywhere anymore. The TSA groping is very intrusive and the health risks are just not worth it .

  6. Well, having recently returned from an unplanned trip to Florida and having to fly…this is bringing back unpleasant memories. Where’s my safe space! LOL. When I fly, all the following apply: I hate the germs, I hate having my seat invaded, it annoys me that my carryon must meet size regulations but many others do not have to follow that rule. Plus, I cannot take what is truly needed to keep me safe st my final destination. And I hate the stupid question did anyone put something in my bag. Are you kidding me? Get some dogs and profilers and quit the stupid question that serves no purpose. So I am already stressed when I fly.

    I take oil or oregano as a preventative because there is always someone coughing near me non stop. And I keep taking this for several days after I land. And who know who sat in my seat the flight before me. I also use the silver spray, but cannot take it as carryon as it must be packed in the bag they like to lose but charge extra to bring.

    This last flight home, I had a rather large man in the middle seat attempt to ooze into my window seat and he actually spread his legs into my leg area. Some of that I blame on the airline industry for less leg room, but hey, I paid for my leg area. He got the look and figured it out rather quickly. The next leg of the trip had me in aisle seat (the airline moved my seat at the gate – never had that happen before). I was in the exit row next to two nurses. A guy behind us was coughing up a storm. Why do they even let them fly without wearing a mask? The nurse remarked that she had caught on cold on the trip down to Atlanta because someone on the plane had been sick. Thankfully I did not catch anything on either flight down or home.

    Don’t touch anything, including the escalators rails and hand holds for the travel between terminals. Use the airport bathrooms when you can, strip your clothes when you get home to wash them, and wear a hat. And take oil or oregano capsules or know how to dilute the drops to take orally. And once you have your luggage, take out the colloidal silver spray and spray down the steering wheel, inside door, and controls of the vehicle you are renting.

    Safe travels to everyone who has to use the friendly skies.

    1. DAMedinNY,
      Also leave your bags in an easy to clean area when you get home( entry area?). wash down/spray area and bags with tea tree/oregano 6-8 drops of each /91%alcohol 2 0z.and water 6 oz.mixed.. be sure to spray zippers,allow to sit to dry before you open… take additional antiviral in addition selenium,garlic( processed for allicin) something with zinc, of the OTC flu remedies.
      Like you i am partial to oregano, but not everyone can abide it. If possible do this when you have to fly for each part of the flight….elderberry tea w/ echinacea is made together in tea bags… I do not plan to fly until the groping of passengers is stopped. They only harass the ones who obviously have no issues….kids, old people. in wheelchairs .

  7. Excellent information… I agree that flying isn’t what it used to be. It’s more like riding a city bus nowadays!

  8. Very good information, even for everyday life. Especially for any public transportation, be it bus, train, subway, etc. By the way, I don’t fly. Try to get me on a plane, and your in for a fight. Them airplanes are scary things.

  9. How to Avoid Catching the Flu or Germs on an Airplane?

    Simple, I don’t fly commercially.
    I also avoid having my civil rights violated by TSSSS A
    I have no interest of going to any foreign country ever again.

  10. What NRP said. Although I also wear long sleeved t shirts, jeans and socks, to keep the koodies off my skin. The face masks can be found at the dollar store, for mebbe a dime each when you do the math. Also, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down your headrest, armrest and fold down table with a Clorox type wipe. None of this is over the top and is cheap insurance.

  11. The bleed air from jet engines doesn’t need to be heated, it’s up to 500°C hot when it comes out of the compressor. So it is cooled before use in the cabin.
    Some airports have ground based air systems which are used for cabin air and engine starting.
    Otherwise great article

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