We're entering the holiday season, which for many means flights to see family and relatives. Planes are more crowded this year than ever, thanks to the airlines having reduced capacity, and with that comes a greater chance of getting ill. Here are our top tips for staying healthy when flying. Plus, most of these tips are useful year round for staying well, even if you're not flying.
1. Wash hands
I was never a germaphobe, and knock on wood my family is generally healthy, but it doesn't take more than one instance of traveling with a child who becomes ill on the journey to become much more vigilent when it comes to handwashing. One issue that can be tough to remember or implement is that you should ideally wash with the hottest water you can stand, and make sure you rub your hands with soap for a good 20-25 seconds, to kill most of the germs. In my son's potty training video they instructed the kids to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which at a child's pace of singing is about the right length of time.
2. Use Hibistat wipes
You might view this as overkill, since these are, after all, hospital grade germicidal hand wipes. But I personally don't view it as overkill when confronted with airplane tray tables and bathrooms. For example, Charles Gerba, Professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of Arizona, did a 2007 study where he swabbed plane bathrooms and tray tables on eight flights. Four of the six tray tables tested positive for MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which you can probably tell just from the name is resistant to common antibiotics, and in fact thrives in the presence of penicillin-like antibiotics. Meanwhile, 30% of the bathroom faucets and flush handles Dr. Gerba swabbed had E.Coli bacteria. Don't forget to use them on hotel remote controls as well-in another study Dr. Gerba did, remote controls were the germiest item in hotel rooms (guess they never get cleaned).
The nice thing about Hibistat is that its chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) will keep killing germs for 6 hours after bonding to the skin, and Hibistat kills MRSA and other Staph strains of bacteria. Don't use it the face, nose or sensitive areas, but for hands and wiping down surfaces (use one towlette per surface to avoid spreading germs from one place to another) Hibistat is perfect.
3. Try to fly in first or business class
This is one of the best ways to make the flight less crowded and reduce the number of people in close proximity, thereby reducing your chance of getting ill from another passenger. Not always possible of course, and not as crucial on short flights (we're flying coach on Jetblue this Thanksgiving, but the flight is just 1 hour) but if you can, due to elite status or an award ticket, good way to lower your chances of getting ill while on board. If you are flying across time zones, check out our Tips for Fighting Jet Lag. And if you have a long flight with a toddler, you might want to read Tips for Taking Toddlers on Long Plane Flights.
4. Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol
I know, this isn't easy if you've gotten on the plane without your own water bottle, given how water is rationed out as if it was wartime. So make sure that after you go through security you either refill your water bottle, if you've brought your own with you, or buy a big bottle of water. If you're cheap, then buy a banana at Starbucks, if there is one, and ask for a Venti sized cup filled with tap water. Make sure to drink water often before and while in flight. Do your best to not drink anything caffeinated or alcoholic, since both will dehydrate you. If you feel thirsty, it's a bit too late–your body is already somewhat dehydrated–so drink water even if you're not thirsty.
5. Keep your sinuses moist
Plane air is drier and less humid, and when your sinuses are dry, they're more susceptible to infection. Keep them moist with a saline nasal mist, such as Ayr. You may even want to dab some Vaseline on them to keep them from drying out.
6. Get enough sleep–on a regular basis
You might well say “easier said than done.” But have you ever gotten ill soon after pulling an all-nighter or numerous nights of little sleep? Thought so. The lack of sleep really does a number to your immune system. So even apart from trying to sleep on the plane if it's a very long flight (hopefully no one has such a flight this Thanksgiving) it's crucial to get enough sleep, 7-8 hours/night, on a regular basis.
7. Eat well and avoid sugar
The best way to get your vitamins is not to take pills–it's to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens such as spinach and kale, every day. Along the same lines, even though the holidays are notoriously sugar-packed, sugar tends to weaken the immune system, so it's best to avoid it or get it naturally in the form of naturally sweet fruits. Hard for me, especially how much I love desserts! But I do avoid desserts and sugar on flights. Organic yogurt, ideally plain, is also a good immune booster. Make sure that the yogurt you choose has live bacterial cultures, cultured after pasteurization. One of my favorite brands is Wallaby, an organic yogurt producer from California's wine country.
8. Teach your kids how to cover their nose with a tissue when sneezing and to cover their mouth when coughing
This will hopefully not only help prevent you from getting ill, but also other passengers, if your kids already have a cold. I'm working on this currently with my 3-year old, and it's still a work in progress (as with other manners!) but I view it as a really important parental responsibility.
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Photos: Magpie372, minibeach