Germy Airplane Rides and How to Protect Yourself

There are two things missionaries can’t get away from – long airplane trips and the germs those airplanes carry.

Several hundred people and children climb aboard your plane — coughing, wheezing, sneezing, touching everything in sight. Is it any wonder that when flu or virus outbreaks happen, airplanes are the first places to be closely watched?

But since we can’t live without those Intercontinental flights, we surely can live with wise health practices once we board that plane.

In a recent article by Dennis Wright for AARP, Six Places Germs Breed on a Plan, the critical “germ breeding” areas in the airplane were identified.   If you can manage those areas well for you and your kids, you’ll get off the plane as healthy as you went on.

(1)  Watch the Water Supply.  This is the BIG issue to consider.  Since planes must have “tanked water,” that water goes into the coffee and tea you drink; the wash water in the lavatories; ice cubes; and often the glass of water offered you to drink.  If water is resupplied in a foreign airport, that country’s water standards might be even lower.  And periodically the e-Coli virus has shown up in those tanks.

To protect yourself overall, carry you own water on board or drink beverages out of bottles and cans.  And instead of washing your hands in the bathroom, carry some hand sanitizer or lysol wipes to get them clean again.

(2)  Watch the Seat Pocket.  I’m a little more cautious with airplane water, but this one hit me blind-sided.  When I get in my seat, I put my billfold, books, magazines, blow-up head pillow, etc. in the seat pocket.  I also grab the in-flight magazine to see what movies will play on the flight.  And some of the articles are interesting too.

Here’s the question to answer:  What has someone else put into the pocket before I got there?  And when was the last time the airlines have disinfected these pockets?

When we consider that cold and influenza viruses can survive for hours on fabric and tissues, and even longer (up to 48 hours) on nonporous surfaces like plastic and metal, the airplane seat pocket can be a germ-field waiting to sprout — on you!

Protect yourself by not using it.  Or if you must, perhaps you could use one of those lysol disinfectant wipes to clean the area before you put anything into it.

(3)  Watch out for the Tray Table.   The seat pocket caught me by surprise, but makes sense.  I would never have thought the tray table can also pass on germs to me!  After all, I open it to write on, eat on, and brace my book on.

This article states the following facts, and how you can protect yourself from a very nasty virus passed on through your tray table:

Research confirms that the handy tray table is a petri dish for all kinds of health hazards, including the superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), which is often fatal once contracted. It kills an estimated 20,000 Americans annually.

In 2007, University of Arizona researcher Jonathan Sexton tested tray tables from three major airliners, and an alarming 60 percent tested positive for the superbug. That’s quite a revelation considering only 11 percent of his samples from the New York subway found traces of the bug.

Bring disinfectant wipes to clean off your tray table before and after use, and never eat directly off the surface. CDC guidelines tell you what to look for in a disinfectant and recommend checking a product’s label to see if MRSA is on the list of bacteria it kills; Lysol disinfecting wipes is one reliable choice. And be sure to protect any cuts with Band-Aids — the most common way of contracting an MRSA infection is through open skin.

(4)  Watch out for the Airplane Pillow and Blankets.  Sometimes those large airplane cabins get down-right cold.  Grabbing for the blanket in the overhead bin, and snuggling with the provided pillow most often solves the cold issue for me.

But it could create another “cold” issue.  Germs that cause infections and pneumonia could be passed through that soft blanket.

And did you know that in a 2007 investigation by The Wall Street Journal, they discovered that airlines cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days.

So instead of dreaming how the person using the blanket and pillow before you was slobbering all over them through his beard, it’s best to use your coat to stay warm or carry a small blanket, and blow-up your own pillow to snoozing.

(5)  Watch out for the Airplane Lavatory.  This is probably the most obvious germ depository in the list, right?  Well, the CDC cited the lavatory as a major danger area for the spread of disease during the H1N1 flu and SARS epidemics.  So your trips to the lav on your flight, while necessary, must be watchful!

First, be aware of the door handle.  Hundreds of people are using the commode on your flight, and many of them aren’t in the habit of washing their hands afterwards, as you are.

And besides, washing them means using the tank water which may or may not be clean.

Your best bet is to touch as little as you can, use a paper towel to put the lid down, then flush so the spray is contained,  gingerly open and close the lavatory door, and go back to your seat.  Once there, get out that plastic bottle of disinfectant hand soap and have a good hand scrubbing.

Of course, a person can get too paranoid trying to out-wit the germs they can’t see.  And in your intercontinental travels you have probably fought off most of the harmful germs anyway.

But keeping oneself and their immune system strong is a strategic way to stay healthy.  And then there’s the ultimate solution of trusting the Lord to protect us in these types of situations we can’t control.

All said and done, the wisest man in the world said, “a wise person takes heed to their ways and acts appropriately.”  In airplanes with a few simple health measures we can act wisely and defeat the germies.

Comments?  Have you ever gotten ill because of an airplane trip?  Are there any other measures you take to limit potential sickness on airplanes?

About Dave Grissen

David & Sheri Grissen spent 44 years in mission and humanitarian aid work. In 2003 they established Life Impact, a ministry of strengthening Christian workers in hosted centers, called Oases. Presently 12 Oases are functioning. www.LifeImpactMinistries.net. In 2016 they started Fund The Ministry to help missionaries create new funding for their ministries. www.FundTheMinistry.com. They have five married children and fifteen grandchildren.
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