Beyond the heightened chance of getting sick because of traveling, flying in the winter months increases the risk even more, according to Dr. Mark Gendreau, a physician based in Burlington, Vermont.

“The risk of contracting a contagious illness is heightened when we travel within any enclosed space, especially during the winter months, when most of the respiratory viruses thrive,” Gendreau explained to CNN.

To stay healthy, here is a breakdown of in-flight habits to keep in mind during your trip:

The amount of people traveling within the U.S. over Thanksgiving this year is the highest amount in the last eight years, which means more exposure to germs.
The amount of people traveling within the U.S. over Thanksgiving this year will be the highest amount in the last eight years, which means more exposure to germs.

Avoid germ zones
While germs are all around us by nature, some areas on a plane are more contaminated than others. Staying healthy and dodging pathogens can be as straightforward as keeping away from germ zones. Here are some travel trips to help you do just that:

  • Wearing socks is an easy way to keep your feet protected when going through airport security. Because you will have to remove your shoes before getting screened, socks will protect your feet from the dirty floor. Dr. Michael Zimring, director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, explained to Prevention magazine that sweaty bare feet mixed with airport floors can lead to bacterial or fungal infections.
  • Refrain from drinking coffee and tea on the aircraft because the water used to make it may contain coliform bacteria such as E. coli. Based on investigations of airplane water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency beginning in 2004 when the organization initially found coliform bacteria, the EPA, Food and Drug Administration and Federal Aviation Administration created the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule to help prevent potentially dangerous bacteria from infecting passengers. Still, the EPA advised concerned travelers to stick to bottled or canned options for in-flight soda, water and juices. Staying hydrated throughout a flight is still important because dehydrated nasal membranes make people more prone to infections, according to Prevention magazine.

“Some areas on a plane are more contaminated than others.”

  • Wipe down tray tables as soon as you get seated, as they may be covered in Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. According to CNN, a researcher at the University of Arizona found that 60 percent of tray tables on airplanes have traces of MRSA, which is almost five times more prevalent than surfaces on a New York City subway. CNN recommended that travelers use wet wipes with a disinfectant that kills MRSA, such as Lysol.
  • Avoid using the restroom if possible because as one may expect, an airplane bathroom is covered in bacteria. According to Gerba, airplane toilets are some of the “germiest” of any and all toilets. If you do have to use the lavatory, Gerba said it is important to sanitize your hands when you get back to your seat because the sink water in the bathroom can also contain bacteria.
  • Use a carry-on bag to store any loose belongings you may need throughout your flight because seat pockets are notorious germ-carriers. CNN reported that seat pockets bear cold viruses and influenza A, B and C viruses, in addition to other unsanitary substances left behind by previous flyers.
  • Move seats if possible if you are seated next to someone who is visibly sick. According to The Wall Street Journal, germ exposure via a sneeze has a two-seat radius, or 6 feet.

Sanitize often
Keeping your hands and your family’s hands clean and germ-free throughout the travel day is an important part of remaining healthy. In addition to hand sanitizer use before eating and after using the restroom, it helps to sanitize after tasks like using the ATM or riding an escalator, according to CNN. This is especially important at airports because of the high volume of users.

Take care
Although these tips and tricks are effective in deflecting germs, it is still possible to get sick over the holidays. CareWell Urgent Care can help you enjoy the season by getting your health back on track. Book an appointment online or call your local CareWell Urgent care as soon as you or a family member starts to experience symptoms.