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Sick on an airplane.

Do airplanes make you sick?

Can you get sick from flying on an airplane?  When people book flights for their families, they also book for their germs.

A busy travel season means you’ll be jostling for legroom alongside many other travelers and sharing close quarters with their bacteria and viruses. But does being on an airplane actually increase your chances of getting sick?

It can, says Piedmont family medicine physician Lauren Powell, M.D. But in most ways, she says, airplanes are just like anywhere else. Proper cleaning can usually safeguard you, but any place with so many people packed together could spell trouble.

“More people means more germs,” she says.

Where the germs lurk

Much of your risk depends on how your airline cleans its planes. Dr. Powell says that if staff members are thoroughly sanitizing everything, there’s little reason for concern.

Problems arise from high-touch areas that staff may need to clean more. Those can include:

  • Lavatory sinks
  • Handles
  • Tray tables
  • Overhead luggage bins

The issue is compounded, she says, by the fact that plane cabins are enclosed environments. But the good news is that planes aren’t necessarily bastions of aggressive or rare types of bacteria.

“From a germ perspective, it’s just the same germs,” Dr. Powell says. So, if you get sick, you’ll likely come down with something common like a cold. 

How to protect yourself and others

To give yourself the best chance of staying healthy, Dr. Powell recommends some preemptive measures before you fly:

  • Bring antibacterial wipes for use on each surface you touch.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before you travel.
  • Eat a well-balanced meal before your flight.
  • Load up on vitamin C with a supplement or foods like pineapple and mango.

Dr. Powell says it’s also essential to ensure you aren’t the source of illness yourself aboard a flight.

“People get sick, but they really want to go on their vacation,” she says.

She recommends purchasing travel insurance for trips. She says if you absolutely must travel while ill, wear a mask when on the plane and at the airport. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, after going to the bathroom, and before eating or touching your face. If you can’t get to a sink, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“I would really encourage people to try not to travel if they don’t feel well,” she says.

Feeling sick after a flight? If your symptoms aren’t severe, try waiting them out for a couple of days, but see a doctor afterward. 

Dr. Powell practices at Piedmont Physicians Buckhead, 35 Collier Road Northwest, Suite 500, Atlanta, GA 30309. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Powell or one of our other primary care providers. Save time, book online.


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