How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling on an Airplane

From washing your hands often to getting a flu shot before your vacation, here are some tips to avoid catching something on a flight

When you’ve spent time booking flights and hotels for a trip, the last thing you want to do is get sick before you get there.

Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic have advice for travelers looking to actively avoid getting sick.

From washing your hands often to getting a flu shot before your vacation, here are some tips to avoid catching something on a flight:

Wash your hands regularly

Washing your hands “is the single most important infection control measure,” according to the CDC. The center recommends washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash with soap and water, it recommends using an alcohol-based hand wash. Passengers should also avoid touching their mouths, eyes or noses if they haven’t washed their hands.

Wear a flu mask

Wearing a mask to keep from getting sick “can’t hurt and it might help,” Dr. James M. Steckelberg, a consultant in the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine at Mayo Medical School, says on the Mayo Clinic’s website. “Some studies have shown that using a surgical mask can help prevent influenza,” he says. Flu can travel through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or talks, so a mask can help keep those germs at bay.

Choose a window seat

Armrests along the aisle of an airplane could harbor germs, as passengers walking up and down the aisle often touch them as they pass by, Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse said on the clinic's website. “Some people have suggested that the window seat may be the safer seat to sit in in terms of risk of transmission to infections,” she noted.

Wipe down your tray table, armrests and seat belt buckle

Tray tables, armrests and seat belts are “some of the dirtiest places on an airplane,” according to Rajapakse, but touching them is generally unavoidable. So Rajapakse recommends wiping the areas down with a disinfectant wipe and “washing your hands or using hand sanitizer afterward.”

Get a flu shot

Flu seasons vary depending on which hemisphere you’re in. Nevertheless, anyone older than 6 months “should get a flu vaccine yearly, preferably in the fall before the U.S. flu season begins,” the CDC says. Travelers should get their shots “at least two weeks before travel,” as immunity takes that amount of time to develop.

Don’t get other travelers sick

If you already have flu or flu-like symptoms, you should call off your trip, the CDC says. If you have a cold or cough, meanwhile, you should cough and sneeze into a tissue and deposit it directly into the garbage afterward. Travelers should pack tissues with them just in case.

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