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Travel Health Tips: How to Avoid Getting Sick When You Fly

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I’ve been traveling full-time for two years now and have taken countless flights. I mostly have happy memories of my flights. However, there are a handful of memories that aren’t quite pleasant. 

I’m still a little bitter about the lady on my flight from San Francisco to Bali who was coughing without covering her mouth. A few days later, I got a terrible cold that took me two weeks to fully recover. Thanks, lady. I’m still salty towards you.

Planes are breeding grounds for germs. A twelve-hour flight means that I’m exposing myself to the germs of those passengers who are coughing and sneezing around me for twelve whole hours. This thought makes me shiver.

I don’t classify myself as a germaphobe, but I am pretty paranoid about germs when it comes to flying. I’ve taken several long-haul flights and I still get tremendous amounts of anxiety when it comes to germs.

It’s very important to stay healthy while flying. Here are my best tips and tricks on how to avoid getting sick when you fly.

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1. Use Lots of Hand Sanitizer

Bring hand sanitizer with you and don’t be shy when using it. I use hand sanitizer on flights religiously. I immediately use it after I touch the screen in front of me to change a movie. 

I basically use hand sanitizer after I touch anything on the plane. I even use it after I use the bathroom because I’m still opening the door to the bathroom and buckling my seatbelt even after I wash my hands. Don’t judge, okay.

Don’t forget to use hand sanitizer after you store your luggage in the overhead bins. So many people have touched the handle and you want to avoid those germs.

2. Wash Your Hands Frequently

Hand sanitizer is not a replacement for washing your hands. Washing your hands is one of the most important things to do if you want to avoid getting sick when you fly. This will limit the spreading of germs. 

As soon as the fasten seatbelt light turns off after takeoff, I immediately run to the bathroom to wash my hands. 

Washing hands to avoid getting sick when you fly.

Make sure you wash your hands properly to avoid getting sick when you fly.

When using the bathroom, make sure you use a paper towel to turn off the sink faucet after washing your hands. There’s a lot of pesky germs in that area. 

According to the CDC, you need to wash your hands for a minimum of twenty seconds. Don’t forget to scrub under your nails too as there are lots of germs hiding in there. If you need a timer, sing the alphabet song in your head. 

3. Take Immune Boosters

I start taking immune boosters a week before I fly. I personally don’t use Emergen-C. Rather, I take echinacea tablets because I think they’re more effective. Echinacea is a perennial plant that’s known for boosting your immune system and reducing the symptoms of illnesses. If I feel like I’m getting a sore throat or a cold, I take a few echinacea tablets and I’m good to go. 

If you want to kick things up a notch, take Vitamin C tablets as well. The effectiveness of these supplements is often debated, but it’s not going to harm you to take them. You’re better safe than sorry.

READ MORE: Why I Only Travel with Carry-On Luggage

4. Use Antibacterial Wipes

Another way to avoid getting sick when you fly is to use antibacterial wipes. Other passengers might judge you for doing this, but don’t let that stop you.

Use antibacterial wipes to clean your seat belt, armrests, tray table, window (if you have a window seat), television screen, remote for the tv screen, and air control vents. This is the first thing I do as soon as I sit down.

Seat table on airplane to avoid getting sick when you fly.

Make sure you clean your seat table to avoid getting sick when you fly.

These areas rarely get disinfected. I try not to think about how many germs are hanging out in these areas.  

I flew from Kenya to Rwanda and my seat had seven snotty tissues on it when I boarded the plane. I told the flight attendant about it and she moved me to first class. Holla! Trust me when I say that the areas around your seat are crawling with germs.

5. Do Not Use the Seat Pocket in Front of You

Imagine if the person sitting in your seat before you had a cold and put their used tissues in your seatback pocket. Gross. Keep your belongings stored in your carry-on bag.

Most people use the seatback pocket as a place to keep their rubbish. I’ve even seen a lady put a used diaper in the pocket.

6. Get Plenty of Sleep Before You Fly

Lack of sleep can weaken your immune system. You’re more susceptible to getting sick when your immune system is down. Therefore, it’s imperative that you get plenty of rest beforehand to avoid getting sick when you fly. 

This is especially vital for people who don’t sleep well on flights like my husband. Try to get a solid seven to eight hours of sleep the night before you fly. 

7. Choose Your Seat Carefully

Window seats have fewer germs than aisle seats. You’ll be exposed to more germs in the aisle because you’re closer to passengers walking up and down the aisle. 

Choose your seat carefully to avoid getting sick when you fly.

I always choose the aisle seat.

Also, it’s better to sit away from the bathrooms. Lots of passengers crowd this area thus increasing your risk of catching germs while they’re crowded around your seat waiting for the bathroom to open up.

8. Stay Hydrated

You need to drink lots of water if you want to avoid getting sick when you fly. The lack of humidity in the air throughout the plane can lead to dehydration. As a result, this dries out your nasal passages and mucus membranes. In turn, it’s easier for viruses and bacteria to enter your lungs. 

A good rule to follow is to drink eight ounces of water each hour you’re on the flight. This will help you keep hydrated and reduce the risk of you getting sick. 

I highly recommend traveling with a water bottle that you can bring on board with you. Keep in mind that some budget carriers do not provide passengers with water. Therefore, it’s crucial that you bring your own unless you want to pay a steep price for water on board. 

Lastly, you should skip the booze. It’s tempting to keep throwing back the wine when it’s complimentary. However, alcohol can dehydrate you. 

9. Ask to Switch Seats If the Person Next to You Is Sick

If the person next to you is coughing and sneezing, ask the flight attendant if you can move seats. Explain the situation to them and they will be accomodating if extra seats are available. 

I’ve asked to move seats when Suzy next to me was incessantly coughing. The flight attendant immediately moved me. There’s no reason to sit next to a germ factory if you have the option to move. 

10. Eat Well

An unhealthy diet can lower your immune system. Avoid eating greasy and unhealthy food before flying. Eat plenty of greens, veggies, and fruits to avoid getting sick before you fly. 

Eating healthy before flying.

I usually eat a meal that looks like this before I fly to avoid getting sick.

Also, avoid eating salty snacks on the plane. This will lead to dehydration. 

11. Keep the Air Vents Open

Keep the air vents open above your seat to avoid getting sick when you fly. It’s tempting to close them when you’re cold. Hear me out though — the air coming out of the vents is filtered pretty well. Keep the air circulating because stagnant air is where germs multiply.

12. Don’t Touch Your Face

This is going to be a tough habit to break, but touching your face can spread germs from your hands to areas that are more prone to get you sick. This includes your mouth, nose, and eyes. 

If you wear contacts and you have to rub your eyes, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you do so. 

Like I said before, you’re going to have to be really aware of this but it will help you avoid getting sick when you fly. 

READ MORE: Your Guide to Surviving a Budget Airline Flight

13. Only Use Wrapped Pillows or Blankets

I never use pillows and blankets on flights unless they’re wrapped. There is controversy revolving around this though. Some flight attendants state that the blankets and pillows aren’t washed and they’re just simply wrapped. Others state that they are indeed cleaned.

I never use the pillows anyway because I don’t find them comfy. Mostly, I stick to laying my head on Amos’s arm because it’s comfier than the pillow. 

I recommend traveling with your own blanket and pillow if you want to avoid getting sick when you fly. I don’t, but I know some of you prefer to be extra cozy on flights. I simply just don’t have the space for it since I travel with a carry-on only. 

I hope you found this list helpful and you know exactly what to do now to avoid getting sick when you fly. Did I miss anything on the list? Let me know in the comments below.



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Saturday 7th of March 2020

Great tips! I’ve been wiping down my seatbelt, arm rest, tray table, tv, and tv controller as I sit down but I will add your other tips about the air vent too. I usually use my jacket as a blanket or use the blanket just for my legs and the pillow is for the arm rest or my lower back.

Disha Smith

Sunday 8th of March 2020

Thanks for reading, Alaine!

Jessica Pascoe

Friday 6th of March 2020

This post is even more relevant at the moment - thanks for the sensible advice

Disha Smith

Sunday 8th of March 2020

Thanks for reading, Jessica!


Thursday 5th of March 2020

I'm taking a long flight in the next couple of days and I'm really anxious. I've practically memorised all of your tips! Trying to be as prepared as I can, I've blocked my seat, bought antibacterial wipes and am taking Vit C supplements - might be going a bit overboard I think, lol!

Disha Smith

Sunday 8th of March 2020

Haha, it's better to be overboard during times like this! Safe travels!


Thursday 5th of March 2020

Those are all really helpful tips. I didn't know that there is a fewer germs at the window seat. Now I have an even better reason to book it

Disha Smith

Sunday 8th of March 2020

Thanks for reading, Albi!


Wednesday 4th of March 2020

These would work so great in the perfect world where they let you switch seats :D Coughing and sick kids are usually where I get sick :S

Disha Smith

Sunday 8th of March 2020

Yes, sick kids on flights always get me sick too!