Posted by Dr. Thomas Horowitz

Holiday season is the peak time for air travel. Are you going on a much needed vacation? So are 115.6 million Americans—the highest number of holiday travelers recorded in the last 20 years.1 You will soon be boarding a plane to meet your loved ones and you don’t want to be sick during your vacation.

Airplanes are an excellent place to pick up some germs. Often, these disease-causing germs can survive for days, and even for a week, inside the airline cabins.2 Many people worry about the recirculated air, but most infections come from your hands after touching things in the plane. Staphylococcus, h. Flu, e. Coli, streptococcus, influenza, rotavirus and the common cold virus are major concerns. They can be on any surface.

Here are simple tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick on your vacation:

  • The fabric on airplanes can host critters such as lice. There is no practical way to clean the fabric of the seat and headrest. To clean these, you would need sprays that the airlines generally won’t let you use and they require time for the fabric to dry. Your best protection is to wear long-sleeves and clothing that covers your legs. A hoody is the best way to protect your neck and hair. Once you get to your destination, shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes.
  • The next challenge is disinfecting hard surfaces on an airplane. Wipes will help with the tray table, arm rest, and belt buckle. These wipes require “wet” time on the surface, usually a full minute or more. Hydrogen peroxide or bleach wipes are available in travel packs. Always carry disinfectant hand wipes or gel, and use these after touching anything you did not disinfect.
  • Everything in the seat-back pocket should be seen as dirty. Take a clean travel bag with you for snacks and/or a water bottle, and do not put the items in the seat-back pocket.
  • Parasites are another cause of concern. You can avoid contact with these by keeping your bare skin off of fabric surfaces. Most importantly, do not go barefoot.
  • Take some tissues to “share” if someone near you has a cough. Also, try not to touch your face unless you just cleaned your hands.

Happy Sniffle-free Holidays!
1American Automobile Association. AAA Says 115.6 Million Travelers Will Break Holiday Records. Retrieved from
2Auburn University. Auburn researchers say harmful bacteria can survive for a week inside airliner cabins. Retrieved from
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