The Consummate Traveler: Airplanes and Your Health

October 23, 2014 Updated: October 23, 2014

For the first time since the whole Ebola virus story has taken over news headlines, I ventured to the airport and took a 9.5-hour flight for a business trip to Brazil. I must admit that I was very curious to see if any of my fellow passengers would be sporting latex gloves, facial masks, or worse yet hazmat suits. I am happy to say that I didn’t see any signs of “Ebola anxiousness” on my flight.

While everything that I have been reading so far suggests that you cannot catch Ebola from touching a doorknob or being in contact with airborne germs from sneezes and coughs, the truth is that airplane cabins have always been confined spaces where various bugs may circulate and thrive during long hours of travel. In this context, I think it is well worth reviewing a few basic steps to promote general health awareness while on the road.

1. Frequently wash hands in plain soap and water. There used to be a time when I remember colleagues of mine rubbing down their hands constantly with anti-bacterial sanitizing gels both in and out of airplanes, but alas, that is not advised by health experts anymore. It seems that using anti-bacterial soaps and gels also kills good bacteria on your skin and that is not good for your immune system. Regular old soap and water does the trick just as effectively.

2. Don’t touch your face. If there are passengers near your seat who are obviously sick, make a mental note to not touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with your bare hands. These are the common areas on the body where germs and bacteria can enter, leading to illness.

3. Wipe down your seat. When the hot towels come around in the business class cabin before a meal, I must admit that I use it primarily to wipe down my arm rests, television screen remote, seat control panel, and tray table. These are the surfaces that I will be using the most, and since I don’t know the last time they have been really cleaned, this simple routine gives me peace of mind. If you are in economy class, make sure to bring along a travel size packet of disposable wipes for this purpose.

4. Avoid touching bathroom locks. Recently, I have started using tissues to open and close the bathroom locks on airplanes. In my opinion, that appears to be one of the obvious hotspots to be careful of simply due to the large number of people touching them.

5. Get enough rest. A common piece of advice I would give to all travelers for overall health during your trip is to make sure you get adequate rest the first day you arrive at your destination. If you are lucky enough to sleep perfectly well on airplanes, unlike me, then you should be refreshed and on the right foot when you land. However, if you have trouble sleeping on a flight, take a nap when you get to your hotel if your schedule permits. Fighting to stay awake to beat jetlag has never been something that I have done. If my body is exhausted, giving it the restorative sleep it needs at any time of day has always worked well for me and my immune system.

As always, I wish you all the happiest … and healthiest … of travels!