Sick passengers on planes

It’s every traveller’s worst nightmare, seated on a plane a couple of rows away from a sniffling, snotty passenger.

Or worse, still, right next to them. When you look around and see that you’re on a packed plane, what, then, is your defence? How likely are you to be infected by this sick passenger?

A report recently released on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that, perhaps unsurprisingly, if you’re in the same row within a seat or two, one row in front or one behind, your chances of becoming ill are around 80 per cent.

But those a few rows away are pretty safe.

“Passengers should not worry about getting sick from somebody coughing five rows behind,” said lead researcher Vicki Stover Hertzberg.

In fact, outside of around one metre, passengers only have a three per cent chance of getting sick.

However, the story changes for sick crew members, who could infect around five passengers per flight.

The report is actually good news for passengers, who can take comfort that aircraft air filters are doing their job.

“This study tells us something we knew, which is that air filters on planes are about 95 per cent effective,” said Professor Marc Siegel from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

“You won’t get sick simply by being in the airplane.”

You can also improve your chances of staying healthy by washing your hands regularly and keeping them away from your face, as well as the following suggestions:

  • turn your air on
  • stay hydrated
  • use a saline spray, because dry nasal passages are an infection magnet
  • carry a face mask, just in case you end up next to the sick passenger.

How do you stay healthy on the plane?

Related articles:
Travel taboos to make you sick
The air vent anti-sickness trick
How to avoid germs on a plane

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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