13 tips to avoid getting sick on a flight

Andy R Annable / Boultbee Flight Academy / Getty Images

There is nothing worse than getting off of a flight to feel a cold settling in.

And while you can’t predict when you’ll be on the same flight as someone who is sick, there are steps you can take to walk out as germ-free as possible. Here are 13 tips to help you stay healthy on a plane.

Talia Avakian wrote an earlier version of this post.

Don't drink the tap water.

In 2007, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study of 14 different international and domestic flights. Their results revealed traces of everything from Salmonella to tiny insect eggs lurking in the water onboard.

Of the 14 they studied, almost all samples contained bacteria levels that reached 'tens, sometimes hundreds of times above the US government limits.'

Efforts were made by the Environmental Protection Agency to clear up the issue, but studies conducted in 2013 revealed that not much had changed in the bacteria levels of the water.

Skip the ice in your drinks.

While ice usually comes from outside vendors, some large planes have their own ice-making technology and will use the water from the aeroplane tanks to make the cubes, according to CNN.

Since tanks are kept small to maintain a light weight, they can be refilled at foreign airports where water standards can vary greatly.

Avoid using the blankets and pillows.

In another investigation by The Wall Street Journal, airlines were found to wash their blankets and pillows every five to 30 days.

Often freshly washed blankets will only be set out for the first flights of the day, leaving customers who board towards the end of the day with blankets that have already been used several times.

Order a hot meal.

In 2009, LSG Sky Chefs -- one of the largest aeroplane caterers -- was caught in a major scandal when the FDA found traces of insects in their facilities, as well as evidence that unwashed gloves and bare hands had been used to prepare airline food. Another catering company, Gate Gourmet, also dealt with similar issues regarding bacteria and mould being found in their food.

Though many companies have been improving their standards, the safest bet is to consume hot foods, as the heat is likely to kill off unwanted germs.

Avoid aisle seats.

Some scientists say that sitting in the aisle seat leaves you more at risk of being exposed to germs, as it puts you closer to passengers who are regularly coming and going from the restroom.

As some people tend to touch or hold aisle seats when walking down a moving plane, the risk of contamination on the seat ends is greater.

Use the air vent above your seat.

While it's common to think that turning on the air vents will actually recycle germs, experts say that the cabin air filters capture up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses.

In fact, doctors recommend turning on the vent above your head to a low or medium pressure, as it helps to create enough current to keep germs away.

Take precautions when using the restroom.

A study conducted by James Barbaree, associate professor and director of the Auburn University Detection & Food Safety Center, revealed that while bacteria lives for shorter periods of time on plastic surfaces, these types of surfaces transmit germs to hands much more easily.

So when heading to the bathroom, make sure to use a tissue to open the door, and close the lid of the toilet when flushing to avoid the increased spreading of germs.

Finally, don't use the water to brush your teeth and try to use sanitizer to clean your hands instead, since the same water in the aeroplane tanks is used in the restroom.

Use a nasal spray.

Nasal sprays are made of saline concentration that helps add moisture to your nose.

As aeroplane cabins can dry the nose out, nasal sprays help to increase the flow of the tiny hairs that block out germs.

Don't drink coffee or tea.

The coffee and tea that is brewed onboard typically doesn't reach temperatures that are hot enough to be able to kill off bacteria present in the aeroplane water.

When the Environmental Protection Agency tested aeroplane water nine years after major efforts were set in place to reduce bacteria levels, the results indicated that the water used to make coffee and tea in 12% of commercial US planes still tested positive for bacteria like coliform.

Don't place your items in the seat-back pocket.

Besides the possibility that the seat-back pocket can be filled with anything from used tissues to trash, studies by Auburn University's Department of Biological Sciences revealed that armrests and seat pockets are the worst areas to touch since bacteria like E. coli can survive there for days.

Ask to change your seat if the person next to you is sick.

While this might not be possible on fuller flights, it's not uncommon to be moved if someone near you is sick and there are open seats.

Stay hydrated.

Drink ample amounts of water to counteract the dry air in aeroplane cabins. Staying hydrated will help prevent dehydration, which can cause headaches, cramps, and fatigue.

Just make sure to bring your own bottled water or ask for bottled water in-flight to avoid having to drink tap.

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