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Healthy Airline Travel: Part I

TipsForHealthyAirlineTravelBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

It’s summertime and some of us are planning or starting our summer vacations. The goal of a vacation may be to feel better, relax and rejuvenate, go sightseeing, or catch up with friends and family, which can all be very exciting.  Whether you are taking a short flight to visit relatives or flying halfway around the world, it pays to be proactive, prepared and protected when it comes to health and safety. 

Unfortunately, many air travelers pick up unwanted souvenirs in the form of colds, flu, or gastric upset.  Many aspects of air travel increase the risk of illness.  These tips may help you avoid sickness while traveling or help you deal with an illness if you should get sick:

  • Protect your feet at security checkpoints.  Bare feet can easily pick up bacterial or fungal infections.   Wear socks while you go through security.
  • Wash and sanitize your hands often.  Touching germ riddled surfaces such as door handles, railings and faucets and then touching your face, mouth and eyes is an easy way to transmit infections. 
  • Once on the plane, disinfect the arm rests and tray table with antibacterial wipes.  If the passenger seated next to you is coughing, sneezing or obviously ill, ask if there are any other available seats.  Seat back pockets harbor lots of germs.  If you must use the seat back pocket, consider packing your in-flight necessities such as a magazine, book, headphones, gum or snacks in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and place the entire bag in the pocket for access during flight. 
  • Hydrate well before, during and after the flight.  Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating so it’s best to stick with water.  Purchasing a bottle after going through the security checkpoint is a good idea as beverage service on the plane may be delayed.  Drinking one cup of water for every hour you’re in flight can minimize the effects of dehydration. 
  • Humidity levels of less than 25% are common in the cabin of the plane.  Low humidity can cause drying of the eyes, nose and throat.  Viruses thrive in low humidity.  Using a saline nasal spray or gel will keep your nasal passages moist minimizing the risk of infection.  Moisturizing eye drops, especially for contact lens wearers, can help keep you comfortable. 
  • Open the air vent and direct the air so it passes just in front of your face which helps to blow away airborne germs. 
  • Bring your own pillow.  Airline pillows and blankets are often reused without cleaning.  Pack a wrap or a light jacket in your carry-on bag and bring a pair of socks as the temperature in planes tends to be chilly. 
  • Pack a lunch and healthy snacks.  Flights can be delayed or cancelled due to weather, air traffic congestion or mechanical problems.  Even for a short haul it pays to be prepared and avoid the irritability that often accompanies hunger.  Simple, inexpensive snacks can prevent your blood sugar from dipping too low during a long flight.  Bring foods that don’t require refrigeration such as dried fruit, carrot sticks, apple slices, nuts, peanut butter crackers or protein bars so you don’t have to rely on expensive and potentially unhealthy airport fare.  If traveling to another country be aware meat, fruit, cheese and other foods may be quarantined.  If you have any of these types of foods remaining when the flight ends, discard them before disembarking to avoid hassles. 

Planes are germ incubators.  Filtered air circulation is shut down when the plane is on the ground while passengers board and disembark.  All it takes is one sick person to infect many fellow passengers.  Be sure to take into consideration whether you will have access to health items and supplies at your destination. Along with your travel planning and packing, remember to pack a travel health kit including these basic items and any other specialty items you use regularly:

  • Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers.  Clean your hands as often as possible to prevent illness and spread of infection. 
  • Bandages and Neosporin for minor cuts, burns, scrapes and blisters. 
  • Hydrocortisone cream for topical relief from insect bites or skin rashes.
  • Benadryl for allergic reactions. 
  • Antidiarrheal medication for gastric upset which is the most common traveler’s nemesis. 
  • Prescription medications which you should always carry on board with you.  Bring extra in case of unexpected delays. 
  • Health insurance information.  You may want to check with your insurance provider to make sure you are covered wherever you roam.  You may also want to consider travel insurance for those unexpected accidents or illnesses if you are traveling to remote areas. 
  • Vitamins and supplements that you normally take at home plus preventatives like vitamin C, probiotics and digestive aids.   
  • Over the counter headache and fever relievers.
  • Cough drops
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Mild laxative
  • Decongestant
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent

Watch For Healthy Airline Travel: Part II, Tomorrow!