Safe Air Travel for the Business Professional
By Chelse Benham
"Airlines should be responsible for informing passengers of the physical impact
of flight.” - Diana Fairechild, aviation health and safety author
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 60 million
international passengers travel by air from the United States and over a third of
them travel to developing countries, where the risk of contracting infectious
diseases is high. The CDC estimates that as much as half of international
travelers get sick or injured (hurt) during their trip. However, it isn’t international
travel that’s the only culprit at compromising one’s health. According to
Prevention magazine, air travel, in general, is a dirty business.
The April 2004 edition of Prevention magazine reported a recent American
Society for Microbiology study that looked at 7,500 air travelers. The report found
that 22 percent of travelers left airport bathrooms without washing their hands.
The magazine further reported a study from The University of California, San
Francisco that found one in five airline passengers develop cold symptoms within
a week of flying. As a solution, the magazine suggests, in its article “Wash,
Rinse, Fly,” to take Echinacea and vitamin C a few days before you fly to boost
the immune system.
“Echinacea with Goldenseal is effective in boosting the immune system, but you
have to take it gradually starting a few days before flying,” said Dr. Alexander
Edionwe, associate professor of dietetics in the College of Health Sciences and
Human Services at The University of Texas-Pan American. “Echinacea helps
fight against antigens. I would suggest someone use it as a preventive measure
to boost the immune system. Also taking vitamins C, E, A and selenium will help
fight disease because they act as antioxidants.”
Based on the list of contagious diseases provided by the CDC, bolstering the
immune system is a wise precaution. The CDC lists a sundry of airborne viruses
that can be contracted in airplane cabins such as the flu, measles, mumps,
chicken pox and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Added to that list
are the bacterial diseases that can be caught such as pneumonia, meningitis and
tuberculosis (TB). Furthermore, incubation periods for viral and bacterial
infections range from several days to several weeks.
Diana Fairechild, author of “Jet Smart” and a former flight attendant, points out
that airplane cabins increase the chances of getting sick. She targets the air
filtration system as the cause.
“It is not effective and the airflow circulates and recycles exhaled air of fellow
travelers. In addition, the cabin is very dry,” writes Fairechild. “This dry air has
been shown to increase the survival rate of viruses and low relative humidity also
reduces the efficiency of the respiratory system cilia to filter out biohazards.”
In her book, Fairechild provides many suggestions to help prevent acquiring
illnesses during flight. She lists the following:
• Wear a handkerchief or surgical mask before boarding. Although the risk
of infection increases with the duration of a flight, evidence shows that
infections spread while the plane is grounded before all flights – short,
long, domestic or international – because there is usually no fresh air at all
on board until after takeoff. Saturate your handkerchief or surgical mask
with water. This will help block the spread of germs, while also providing
humidity for your lungs.
• Wipe down your arm rests, head rest and tray table with an alcohol wipe
as soon as you take your seat. While on board, often wash your hands
with soap and hot water and/or use antibacterial lotion before you touch
your eyes, nose and mouth.
• If you are seated next to or around someone who is coughing and looks
sick move to a new seat. If that can’t be done speak to a flight attendant
and discuss the situation. Carry a disposable, surgical mask in your bag in
case someone on board is heavily coughing. Politely present the individual
with the mask and ask if they might be considerate enough to wear it to
prevent spreading their infection.
Catching an illness isn’t the only danger encountered during flight. Fairechild
warns that in-flight dehydration is one of the most serious hazards long-distance
flyers face. Symptoms of in-flight dehydration include thirst, scratchy eyes,
bloodshot eyes, dry skin, wrinkled skin and constipation. She suggests the
following steps to prevent dehydration:
• Drink at least eight ounces of water every hour en route.
• Carry your own bottle of drinking water when you fly, to sip on when
service is not available.
• En route, ask for bottled or canned water when the bar cart comes by.
Avoid tap water on airplanes. There are presently no standards for
commercial aircraft water tanks, for cleanliness, treatment procedures nor
water quality in cities around the world where commercial jets refill.
• Avoid alcohol and coffee; they have diuretic properties, i.e., they squeeze
water out of the body’s cells.
• Spritz your face often; use an empty perfume atomizer and refill it with
your own drinking water or buy a water spritzer (used for ironing). This
helps mitigate the in-cabin low humidity.
• For humidified breathing air, cover your nose with a water-saturated cotton
handkerchief. You might feel self-conscious, but your nose and lungs
won't dry out so much. Leave it on as much as possible during the flight. It
will also help to block the spread of germs.
In its June 2004 edition, Prevention magazine offered travel-healthy tips in the
“Ask Dr. Weil” column. The following tips were given:
1. Food – Try to avoid airplane meals. They are generally full of chemical
preservatives, frozen and defrosted with hundreds of other meals in ovens that
are swiped with chemical cleaners. If that's not enough, airline meals are served
at times which increase our jetlag. Bring snacks (from home) to tide you over and
eat after landing on your local meal time.
2. Clothing – Wear loose clothes when you fly. The low air pressure (8,000 feet
inside the jet cabin) makes our bodies swell up and tight clothing can
dangerously impede circulation. Wear layers that can be easily removed for more
3. Airport – Arrive at the airport with time to spare. You'll get a better seat
selection and have a leisurely pace when negotiating security.
4. Germs – Keep your nostrils moist. To help block the spread of airborne germs,
coat your nostrils with edible oil (example, olive oil) or use a moisturizing nasal
spray and wear a handkerchief over your nose and mouth.
5. Water – Cabin air is drier than any desert. Alcohol and coffee dehydrate you,
so drink bottled water every hour, but not the water in the drinking fountains on
the plane – it's unclean.
6. Sleep – Avoid sleeping on the plane if it arrives at night. To help you get over
jetlag, you will need to sleep at night after landing. However, if your flight lands in
the morning, try to get as much sleep as you can on board.
7. Oxygen – To get more fresh air on the airplane, ask your flight attendant to
convey to the pilot that you'd like "less recycled air and more fresh air, please." If
the air still remains stuffy, you can ask your flight attendant to bring you an
8. Physical Exercises – Exercise as much as possible on board.
Contract/release every muscle in your body while seated, get up and walk
around the plane and do some stretches by the doors. This will reduce many
physical and mental symptoms of jetlag and the possibility of having deep vein
thrombosis (DVT), a condition that occurs when a blood clot lodges in a deep
vein, usually in the lower leg or thigh.
9. Keep medications with you - Carry enough of all of your medicines in your
carry-on luggage. Ask your doctor whether you should change your dosages if
your eating and sleeping times will change at your destination. Bring enough
medicine to last your whole trip. Take extra medicine with you in case your return
trip is delayed.
10. Medical Alert Notification – If you have diabetes or epilepsy, carry a
notification and identification card (such as the "Diabetes Alert Card" from the
American Diabetes Association). Have the name and phone number of your
doctor with you in case of an emergency. Remember to bring along the names
and dosages of all of your medicines.
It is always good to be well prepared when traveling. If you have to travel a lot
put together a travel bag that’s ready at a moments notice. One solution is to
pack a travel kit, ahead of time, with the things you need to make your trip more
comfortable. That way you don’t have to rush around collecting the necessary
items at the last minute. Some items to consider packing are:
• Earplugs (block out engine noise)
• Antibacterial hand sanitizer/alcohol wipes
• Bottled water
• Surgical masks/handkerchief
• Olive oil coated swabs in a plastic bag (for the nose), saline nasal spray
• Medications: pain relievers, antacids, prescriptions
• Doc kit –Toothbrush/toothpaste, comb, make-up (items to help touch-up
• Inflatable neck pillow
• Spritzer bottle with water
• Vitamin C and Echinacea
• Chewing gum
• Healthy snacks: dried fruit, nuts and cereal bars
• Reading material
Not being prepared and protected while traveling can be hazardous to your
health. What is a routine business trip could turn out to be a hospital trip if you
don’t use caution. Airplanes are incubators for illnesses. Don’t be put out of
commission because of something you caught in-flight.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” - Anonymous