6 simple steps to keeping you and your family healthy on planes.

“Airplanes are just giant tubes full of farts, you know.”

I was sitting at dinner with my friend. In about 12 hours, I would be getting on a 27-hour plane ride to the UK. And in the meantime, my friend was telling me about everything that was wrong with planes.

“The aircon means that you’re just sitting in a whole lot of recycled farts, and you’re surrounded by germs,” she told me. “You’re guaranteed to be sick after hanging out on three different planes for so long.”

At the time, I thought she was surely exaggerating. And then I read a new study that’s been released by Auburn University in the US. The study aimed to find how long germs can survive in an airplane environment, and they found some horrifying things.

Essentially, researchers disinfected the entire plane, and then contaminated a bunch of the surfaces with bacteria such as MRSA and e-coli. They let the bacteria chill out for awhile, and recorded just how long they survived. The general conclusion? The more “porous” the surface, the better for absorbing and keeping bacteria.

Here’s the full breakdown:

  • Seat pocket – 8 days
  • Rubber arm rest – 7 days
  • Leather seat – 7 days
  • Plastic window shade – 3 days
  • Plastic tray table – 3 days
  • Steel toilet handle – 2 days

Scary stuff, right? Especially when you consider how many people are getting on planes EVERY SINGLE DAY (particularly during school holidays), carrying all sorts of nasty things that you wouldn’t want to be privy to.

Exhibit A: The norovirus I picked up off a Virgin Australia plane a few weeks ago. I also got a white chocolate and raspberry muffin on the flight, which was admittedly nice, but the norovirus was a souvenir I could have done without.

Anyway. Here are some tips for keeping yourself germ-free and healthy on the next flight that you come across, so that you might avoid any nasty cold/flu/vomiting bugs:

The little guys are your friends and will only cost around $2.00

1) Wet wipes are your friend

You can buy individually-wrapped disinfecting wet wipes from Priceline. As soon as you get on the plane, pull one out and run it over all the surfaces you’re going to be touching on the plane, including your arm rest and your tray table.

The person next to you will probably think you’re crazy, but when they’re sick with norovirus a few weeks later, they will be jealous of your mini wet wipes.

2) Try to avoid using your seat-back packet at all

Everything from vomit bags to snotty tissues have probably been in that pocket and I highly doubt it’s been thoroughly cleaned in recent times.

3) Wash your hands like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do

Washing your hands drastically cuts down your chances of getting sick on a flight. Go here for a guide on how to wash your hands properly and do so every time you use the bathroom on the plane. Also – use a paper towel to open the cubicle door after you’ve washed your hands, and also carry hand sanitiser for when-in-doubt moments.

4) Don’t be that person who wears their socks to the airplane bathroom

Wear shoes. Enough said.

5) Don’t use the airplane-provided pillow and blanket

You can’t be sure as to when they were last washed. Bring your own freshly laundered travel pillow and bring a scarf to use as a blanket.

6) Try to maximise immunity before the flight

Make sure you’re as well-rested as possible – don’t specifically deprive yourself of sleep in the hope that it’ll make you sleep on the plane. You’ll lower your immunity and increase your chances of picking up a bug on the flight.

I also like taking some Vitamin C on the plane and drinking lots of water (you’ll need an aisle seat for this, though…).

What are your tips for staying healthy while flying?