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Fact or fiction: Flying gives you the flu?

Published
20.04.2016 kl 06:00
Many believe that the air conditioning in airplanes spreads germs. But is this claim fact or fiction?

Have you heard the claim that in-flight air is recycled and germ-ridden, spreading fellow passengers’ diseases into your system? And now, every time you hear someone sneeze on a plane, you can just imagine the invisible pathogens flying at you through the ventilation.   

Well, according to research, you can breathe easy: there are no studies backing up the idea of germs spreading through planes’ air conditioning.  

In-flight air is cleaner than the air in many offices  

In fact, in-flight air is only partially reused: about 10-50% of the air is circulated to save fuel, and the rest is fresh air drawn into the cabin from the outside. The air is filtered with highly efficient HEPA filters, which catch around 99.9% of small particles including bacteria and viruses.  

The circulated air also does not flow around the whole cabin, because the ventilation is divided into sections of a few rows.   

According to studies on air quality, in-flight air is actually very sanitary, even cleaner than the air in many air-conditioned offices. So germs spreading through plane air conditioning is merely an urban legend.  

The more likely cause are people sneezing right next to you  

However, when the flu season is on, sitting in close quarters to a bunch of people can subject you to diseases. A more likely culprit than air conditioning is the group of passengers immediately in your vicinity, who can spread germs through sneezing.  

Another possible cause is the presence of bacteria on different surfaces, like the seats or in the bathroom. Also the lack of humidity in cabin air – a result of the dryness of air at high altitudes  can, according to some sources, make you more susceptible to infectious diseases.  

How to avoid catching the cold while flying  

The best way to avoid infectious diseases is to be mindful of proper hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and try to avoid touching your face, so germs don’t spread onto your mucous membranes.  

Remember to keep hydrated by drinking a lot of water, as that can help fight infections. It’s wise to avoid alcohol and coffee as they can dehydrate the body.  

Traveling while having the flu is not dangerous, but remember to cover your sneezing with your elbow or wear a face mask to protect fellow passengers. 

Read a physician’s tips to fight the in-flight cold.