This Is the 1 Thing You Need to Know to Avoid Catching the Flu on a Plane

Nobody wants to catch a cold or the flu. But when you’re stuck in the cramped quarters of the economy cabin on a plane, it doesn’t feel like you have a lot of control over the amount of germs you’re exposed to. Airplanes are already teeming with germs. And even if you aren’t typically a big worrier, even the recirculated air can feel toxic in the middle of cold and flu season. But is there anything you can do if you want to avoid the flu?

It turns out that with some smart preparation, you can definitely reduce your chances of catching the flu (or another bug) the next time you fly.

15. Pack hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer
You won’t always be able to wash your hands. |

No matter how much you want to keep to yourself, you have to touch at least a few germ-infested surfaces each time you board a plane. (That includes the latches on overhead bins, the tray table, the arm rests at your seat, and your seatbelt buckle. Don’t even get us started on the bathroom fixtures.) So it’s wise to pack a small bottle of hand sanitizer to kill the germs that will inevitably end up on your hands.

Next: Throw these in your bag, too.

14. Don’t forget your antibacterial wipes

antibacterial wipe container
Use wipes to sanitize your tray table and armrests. | XAOC/iStock/Getty Images

In addition to hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes should definitely find a place in your carry on bag. You can use those wipes to sanitize your tray table. You can wipe down the window shade before you handle it. And you can even give the arm rests a quick once-over before you settle in to your seat. ABC notes that the flu virus can live on a hard surface for about 24 hours. While the bathroom gets cleaned pretty thoroughly between flights, each seat doesn’t. So do yourself a favor and put those wipes to work. As Lifehacker recommends, you should “assume the grossest person on the plane was sitting in your seat during the last flight and act accordingly.”

Next: Keep this in mind when you book a flight in the middle of flu season.

13. Think about taking the first flight of the day

Woman in red shirt with book bag boarding a flight
There might be fewer germs on an early-morning flight. |

If you have some flexibility with your travel plans, you might want to consider taking the first flight of the day. Going with an early-morning flight is a solid choice if you want to avoid delays. But during cold and flu season, it might also be a way to reduce your exposure to germs. Many airlines give their planes a thorough cleaning only at the end of the day, not between flights. While we’d still recommend whipping out the antibacterial wipes, you’ll likely encounter fewer germs if you fly right after the plane was cleaned instead of hours later.

Next: Don’t forget to pack this important item.

12. Pack a nasal spray

Woman blowing her nose into a tissue.
A nasal spray can help defend you against viruses. | Sam Edwards/OJO Images/iStock/Getty Images

Another item to throw in that little quart-size bag of liquids? A nasal spray. ABC recommends using a nasal spray to keep the mucous membranes inside your nose moist. Researchers have found that when the mucous membranes in your nose and mouth dry out, your ability to defend against respiratory viruses is reduced. Pack a nasal spray and use it every two hours to prevent that dehydration from happening.

Next: Do this at least two weeks before you fly.

11. Make sure to get a flu shot

A girl gets a flu shot at CVS
The CDC recommends the shot for everybody 6 months and older. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Another important way to protect yourself against the flu? A flu shot. The CDC recommends that you get vaccinated at least two weeks before travel because it takes about two weeks to develop immunity after you get the shot. Plus, the CDC recommends that everybody 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year. So if you haven’t gotten one yet this year, you might want to get one before you fly.

Next: Always do this when you sit down in your seat.

10. Turn on your air vent

Seat Rows inside an Airplane
Increase air circulation. | gabriellephotos/iStock/Getty Images

The recirculated air in the airplane cabin gets blamed for many colds and many cases of the flu. But ABC reports that you should actually turn your air vent on if you want to minimize your chances of catching something during the flight. If a person with the flu sneezes, the germs can quickly spread through the air to the passengers seated beside or behind the sick person. So when you turn your air vent on, that will increase the circulation of the air in front of you. Turning the vent on can move germs away from you if you’re seated near someone who might be sick.

Next: Never drink these beverages during your flight.

9. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine

two glass cocktail, in low light inside a pub background
Don’t pick a beverage that will dehydrate you. |

Everybody has a different opinion on the best drink to order on a flight. But ABC reports that especially if you want to avoid catching a cold or the flu, you should avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine on board the plane. Both kinds of beverages can actually dehydrate you. And when you’re dehydrated, your immune system takes a hit — the exact opposite of what you want when you need to fight off extra germs.

Next: You should drink this instead.

8. But do drink lots of water

Happy man seating in the aircraft and drinking water
Stay hydrated to boost your immune system. |

Don’t turn the flight attendants away when they stop by with the beverage cart! Smarter Travel reports that you should drink plenty of water to counteract the dehydration that happens in the cabin. Staying hydrated will also help bolster your immune system. Just make sure that you ask for bottled water (or that you pick up a bottle of your own at the airport.) The tap water on planes isn’t particularly safe to drink — which is the last thing you need to deal with when you’re already trying to fend off the flu.

Next: Don’t forget to do this before you eat a snack or a meal.

7. Wash your hands before you eat

Female hands under the stream of splashing water
This should be a no-brainer. | ValuaVitaly/iStock/Getty images

As Smarter Travel notes, “Your hands are the most consistent point of first contact with cold, flu and other germs on planes and elsewhere.” So it’s important to wash your hands before you eat. As Smarter Travel explains, “Scientists report that the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on objects such as armrests, TV remote control handsets, tray tables and other similar surfaces.” Washing your hands with hot water and soap can go a long way toward guarding against a cold or the flu. And don’t forget to use hand sanitizer frequently.

Next: Never do this when you fly during flu season.

6. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose

young man wearing eyeglasses
Don’t spread germs. |

Skyscanner reports that to reduce your chances of catching a cold or the flu when you fly, you should avoid touching your face. “The number one rule is to not touch your eyes, mouth or the inside of your nose,” the publication notes. But that can be tough to achieve. So Skyscanner adds, “A more realistic option is to make sure your hands are clean if you do touch your eyes, mouth or nose.” Wash your hands thoroughly with soap or water when you go to the restroom. And frequently apply your hand sanitizer.

Next: This unexpected item may help you fend off the flu.

5. Pack antibacterial mouthwash

man pouring mouth wash from bottle to bottle cap
It adds another layer of protection. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

Most people don’t make their dental hygiene a priority on a plane. But Smarter Travel reports that it’s actually a great idea to use an antibacterial mouthwash when you’re trying to avoid catching a cold or the flu. “Just as keeping your hands clean can prevent transmission of germs, using a germ-killing mouthwash in-flight may add another layer of protection while simultaneously helping to keep your throat moist,” the publication explains.

Next: If you think you’re coming down with something, consider this before you head to the airport.

4. If you have the flu, consider changing your plans

Sick man with thermometer in mouth
You might need a doctor’s note. |

If you’re the one with a cold or the flu, then ABC reports that you may want to consider changing your travel plans. Some airlines will let you cancel your flight — and will give you the value of your ticket toward future travel — if you forward them a doctor’s note. If you can stay home, contact your airline and ask about its specific policies to figure out what options you have.

Next: Don’t do this when you wait in line. 

3. Don’t stand too close to everybody else in line

Queue of Asian people in line waiting at boarding gate
Avoid all the germs you can. | vinhdav/iStock/Getty Images

Every time you go to the airport, you wait in several lines. You wait in line to check in. Then, you wait in line to go through airport security. You might wait in line for the plane train to get to your terminal. And you’ll definitely wait in line to board the plane. But Travel + Leisure advises that you should “avoid waiting in tight lines to board the plane.” If you can stay out of the crowd of travelers waiting to board the plane, your immune system may thank you.

Next: Always do this when you wait at the gate.

2. Let everybody else board first

girl looking at her watch, waiting to board airplane
Stay out of the cabin for a little longer. |

Similarly, ABC recommends letting everybody else board the plane first. Not only will you avoid waiting in a tightly packed line, but you’ll also avoid the cramped quarters of the cabin for just a little bit longer. Airports are full of germ-infested surfaces, too. But the longer you can enjoy a little more personal space, the lower your chances of catching a cold or the flu.

Next: Here’s one of our most important pieces of advice for avoiding the flu. 

1. Choose a window seat

You’ll be farther away from passengers walking up and down the aisle. | LiudmylaSupynska/iStock/Getty Images

As for the very best piece of advice? You should choose a window seat to reduce your chances of catching a cold or the flu. As Travel + Leisure explains, you want to do everything you can to avoid “highly contaminated areas and close quarters with many other people.” If you sit at the window, you can keep to yourself, away from all the other passengers walking up and down the aisle. “Fewer people passing by means fewer opportunities to catch germs,” Travel + Leisure points out.

Read more: The 15 Germiest Airports in the U.S., Ranked

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