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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: The scariest part of flying? The germs

Chase Binder

Chase Binder

Lots of folks are afraid to fly. I get it. In fact, I had horrible fear of flying for several years. Specifically, I was afraid of tumbling out of the sky in an out-of-control spin that would end in a fiery crash.

Statistically speaking, it was an irrational fear. According to the odds, forget about being injured in a crash. The real threat to my well-being comes from just being on the plane.

I’m talking about germs – nasty stuff such as Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, which has been in the news this week. Is there anything at all we can do about it?

The basics

People have long felt that airplane air, being recirculated, is the reason they often get “sick” (runny noses, headaches, lower gastrointestinal issues and the like) after a flight. They think that germs are being distributed throughout the plane via the overhead vents.

It turns out this isn’t so true. In fact, the past several years have seen the rollout of new planes as airlines seek to lower costs with more efficient engines, lighter materials and much more.

Part of the redesign process has been to upgrade air circulation (and recirculation) systems and also to incorporate the highly effective HEPA filters. In addition, air circulation patterns are designed to minimize the exchange of “dirty” air between neighboring seats.

That being said, airplane air is extremely dry. This means that if you’re dehydrated already, it makes it even harder for the enzymes in your trusty mucous membranes to do their job of filtering out germs and helping your body battle potential illness.

The message here is: Hydrate! Before you get on the plane, make sure you have had lots of water. Some people advise drinking one 8-ounce glass of water for every two hours of flight time.

The guilty parties

So why do illnesses seem to pop up right after flights?

Think germs on surfaces. Then think of all of the surfaces you touch from the time you leave home to the time you arrive at your resort or other destination. Really. Think about it. Shuttles buses. Cabs. Door handles. Handrails on people movers and escalators. Check-in counters. Touch screens (duh!). Armrests in waiting areas. And all this is before you get on board and find your seat. Then think some more. Armrests. Tray tables. Seat pockets. Magazines. Seat backs.

As has been in the news this week, some really nasty germs can live for days on most of these surfaces. You touch the germs, then your face, mouth, eyes, and bingo, germs are transferred. This is scary – even for me.

The solution

After you have your body set for battle by keeping well-hydrated, make sure you wash your hands as often as possible.

I’m not saying you need to channel Howard Hughes, but after you have made it through check-in and TSA to the gate, take a moment to visit the ladies’ or gents’ rooms and just wash your hands with hot water and soap – even if you don’t need to use the facilities.

You should also travel with a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Purell makes 2-ounce squeeze bottles that work well, as well as wipes. These products are available at grocery stores, pharmacies and in special travel sections of stores such as Target and Walmart. They have to be alcohol-based to work, so read labels.

Lastly, use them!

I use wipes to clean off my armrests, tray tables and seat pockets – and always the back of the seat in front of me. Gel and spray is for my hands.

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswith

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