Holiday travel health tips: How to reduce your chances of getting sick on a plane

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Holiday travel tips: Window or aisle seat?
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ABC News has tips to help you stay healthy while traveling over the holidays.

While many frequent flyers have a preference between aisle and window seat, one is better at protecting against illness, according to experts.

"The window seat has less traffic by it," and therefore is less risky for spreading germs, Dr. Nicholas Testa, an ER doctor, explained to ABC News.

Public places such as airports and planes can be a hotbed for germs, but there are ways to reduce your chances of getting sick while flying. Start with these tips.

Protect yourself before the flight

If you're already feeling under the weather, the chances of your compromised immune system picking something up on a plane are higher. The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting your flu shot (if you haven't already) at least two weeks before you fly. You can also help yourself by getting a good night's sleep and eating healthy leading up to the flight.

Choose a window seat

As Testa pointed out, the window seat provides less potential exposure to germs. Other passengers, especially sick passengers, can pass close by aisle seats as they make their way to the bathroom, sometimes grabbing seat backs along the way.

Know when to stay home

If you fly sick, not only can you spread your illness, but you could make yourself sicker. If you look too sick to fly, the airline has the right to keep you from boarding the flight, the CDC points out. Among reasons you should consider staying home, the CDC lists infectious diseases that can easily spread (like the flu). If you're not sure, ask your doctor.

Bring something to wipe down your tray table

The virus can live on these surfaces for up to 24 hours, and individual areas like tray tables and armrests are not going to be cleaned as often as communal areas like bathrooms. This tip is especially important if you're traveling in coach. While several major airlines told ABC News they wipe down those trays every night, at least one said that first class was cleaned more frequently.

Wash your hands every chance you get

At the airport and on the plane, you could come into contact with germs, especially on the surfaces your hands touch.

The CDC says the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands. That's because soap and water kills more germs than hand sanitizer. This is especially effective if you wash for 20 seconds, being sure to scrub every surface of your hands, before you rinse.

If you are unable to get to a restroom, however, the CDC recommends hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol as a backup.

Get on the plane toward the end of boarding

Don't be too eager to get in line and find your seat. That's how you end up waiting around at the front of a packed plane.

"All those people are clotted together in the boarding process; it's far more likely that they're going transmit a virus to each other," Testa explained to ABC News.

Instead, he advises waiting until toward the end to give others time to board.

Turn on your air vent

Turning on your air vent can create quicker circulation, which helps to move germs away if someone nearby sneezes.

Don't dry out

The air in planes can cause your nose and mouth to dry out, which can compromise your immune system, Testa explained to ABC News.

"One of the things we've noticed, particularly on airplanes, is that as soon as your mucous membranes, particularly in your nose and your mouth, start to dry out, we lose one of the most valuable defenses for preventing respiratory viruses," he said.

Testa recommends pumping nasal spray every two hours to keep your nose from drying out. If you tend to have dry eyes, TripAdvisor also advises bringing along eye drops.

Finally, keep your whole body hydrated by drinking plenty of water and decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption.