10 Best Ways to Stay Healthy on a Plane

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With all the scary news stories about pandemics and passengers carrying diseases from abroad, it can sound like everyone is doomed to get sick on a plane flight. After all, you’re sitting in a cramped metal tube with hundreds of other passengers, breathing recycled air, and who knows where those people have been?

On top of this, your immune system is getting stressed. You’re not moving for hours on end, and feeding your body caffeine, sugar, and processed food. And worst of all, you’ve got jet lag to deal with, turning your body clock upside down.

So, is staying healthy on a plane – especially a long-haul flight – even possible? How do you avoid getting sick on an airplane when you’re literally surrounded by germs?

With hundreds of flights under our belts, we’re here to help. Read on for our 10 best ways to stay healthy on a plane and avoid getting sick.

Better yet, subscribe to our updates and get a free checklist of over 30 healthy air travel tips.

How to avoid getting sick on a plane

Dan and I do as much as we can to stay healthy, both at home and abroad. To be honest, most of the things we do to protect ourselves are based on plain old common sense. You may already do them, but there are a few extra tips we’ve picked up along the way that are specific to air travel. So rather than keep them to ourselves, here are some favorite tips for healthy flying.

I hope you find this article helpful. Share it if you do!

1. Strengthen your immune system ahead of time.

The best way to strengthen an immune system is to increase gut flora. For this reason, for the three days preceding long flights, we both mega-dose on high-quality, vegetarian probiotic capsules like these. One bottle per person seems to work well for us.

The week before we fly, we also increase our intake of fermented products like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. We don’t eat any of them on the last day, though, because they can occasionally create excess belly gas. Internal gas can be extremely painful at high altitudes. Besides, we don’t want to offend our seatmates by reducing the *ahem* “local air quality” … if you get my meaning.

ⓘ TIP: To avoid any possible confusion, we’ve included Amazon product links when applicable. Take a look at our travel shop on Amazon.com — where we share our favorite travel products in one place.

2. Stay hydrated.

Drink plenty of water before you get on the plane and limit your caffeine. (Don’t forget to use the bathroom before you board!) Once aloft, stick to juice or bottled water (see tip #5) and go easy on the alcohol because it can be dehydrating. Definitely skip the carbonated beverages because those bubbles can cause intense belly pain with the lower cabin pressure at high altitudes.

Wine? Your call. We’ll confess that we indulge a bit because we like to enjoy it with our meals … though to be honest their vintages rarely warrant a second glass.

ⓘ TIP: Bring an empty, disposable water bottle to the airport and fill it with water from a drinking fountain after you pass through security. Unless they do all the security stuff at the gate, you are permitted to carry it on board.

Photo credit: Flickr/Peter Clark
Carbonated drinks on a flight? Noooo! Don’t do it! Photo credit: Flickr/Peter Clark

3. Stick to bottled water.

Are you planning to drink the tap water on board a plane? If so, you might want to read this Healthline article. Trust us on this: To stay healthy, on a long flight or otherwise, don’t risk your trip by drinking anything made with the water from on board—including coffee or hot tea—and never brush your teeth with the tap water.

Better safe than sorry.

ⓘ TIP: If your destination’s water quality is questionable, take a look at the Crazy Cap water bottle. It’s got a unique UV sterilization system set up in its cap. We have one and love it.

Photo credit: Flickr/Surat Lozowick

4. Bring antibacterial wipes.

The air in a plane may be cleaned regularly, but you can’t say the same about the seats or seat pockets. We have seen women change their babies on the same drop-down tables that later hold their meal trays, and then not wash their hands. Ewwww!

Get some good antibacterial wipes or a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer spray, and wipe down everything … armrests, tray table and latch, light switch, seat reclining button, remote control, air vent, … you name it. Avoid touching anything until you do!

ⓘ TIP: Keep the sanitizing wipes handy and clean your hands after returning to your seat from the lavatory.

plane seats need to be sanitized
For optimum air travel health, sanitize everything that you can, and wear your shoes to the lavatory.

5. And speaking of the lavatory, wear shoes when you go.

Floors in airplane bathrooms will often be wet after a few hours in flight.

Think about it: Can you be sure that the wet stuff on the floor is only water?

Besides, while putting your shoes on may be a tad inconvenient, it’s no fun to wear wet socks back to your seat.

6. Try to relax.

Stress plays havoc on the body. Relaxation is healing, so do what you enjoy while in flight. Read a book or magazine, nap, listen to some music or enjoy the on-board entertainment.

It doesn’t take long for us to tire of the on-board shows and Bollywood movies, so we download music and podcasts beforehand. We also carry Amazon Kindles on every trip.

Here’s why you should consider an ebook reader:

  • It’s like having a library at your fingertips.
  • Compared to a tablet or physical books, it saves a TON of weight and space.
  • You can always find something in English, even in countries where they don’t speak it.

Kindles are super affordable, too. CHECK PRICES HERE.

ⓘ TIP: Amazon also offers a free Kindle app that works on most laptops, tablets and mobile phones. DOWNLOAD IT HERE.

Pin this article about 10 ways to stay healthy while flying on a plane

7. Get some rest.

Good old “R&R” (rest and relaxation) is super healing. If you are changing coasts or continents, make an effort to eat and sleep according to your new time zone while in flight. That nebulous neither-here-nor-there time in fight is the perfect opportunity to adjust your body’s clock and avoid jet lag, which is incredibly taxing on a body’s defenses.

As further help with adjusting to the time difference, we also swear by No-Jet-Lag. It’s an effective homeopathic medication that we take every two hours while in flight, and it helps a whole lot. (As an experiment, we skipped it once on a transAtlantic flight … and felt horrible for days. Ugh. We’ll never be caught without it again.)

8. Keep the blanket and pillow away from your face.

A 2007 investigation by The Wall Street Journal revealed that airlines cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days. But even if you get a freshly laundered one, blankets and pillows tend to end up on the floor, which is incredibly filthy.

Instead of using their blanket, consider dressing in layers to better control the temperature, and use their blanket to warm your feet. Inflatable neck pillows are a convenient alternative to the airline-issued pillow, take up little space in your carry-on bag, and often offer more comfort than the puny pillows that airlines provide.

For even more comfort, consider a buckwheat hulls filled travel pillow. Not only are they hypoallergenic, but buckwheat hulls allow for better airflow and can adapt to the curve of your neck or back, which makes long trips much more bearable.

Linda uses inflatable travel pillow while flying

9. Use your own headset.

You can’t be sure about the audio gear that the flight attendants hand out (lice, anyone?). Seasoned travelers often bring their own. We travel light so we prefer to use earbuds, rather than bulky headsets. Not only are they smaller and far more comfortable, they provide much better sound than what you’ll get on board. Plus, they make good earplugs.

ⓘ TIP: Some older planes have dual-prong jacks that make stereo sound impossible with a single jack. Audio hack: Buy an inexpensive 2-prong adapter that is specially designed for those airplane audio jacks.

10. Move around

Get up and walk around the cabin – it will help to keep your circulation going as often as you can. Being seated for a long time may increase the risk of developing blood clots in the veins in your legs (known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT), which can be life threatening.

Dan developed DVT when we flew to Indonesia and couldn’t walk far for weeks. Don’t let DVT happen to you.

ⓘ TIP: Many people take aspirin before flying, but if you’re prone to blood clots, you should check with your physician first.

Stay healthy while flying by using an airplane aisle like this to walk around.

Chime in below

So what do you do to stay healthy when you travel on a plane ? Leave your thoughts and tips in the comments.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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11 thoughts on “10 Best Ways to Stay Healthy on a Plane”

  1. Great Tips!
    I passed them onto my Son and he is adding them to our list for the next trip we are getting ready to have.

    • I hope they come in handy when you get on a plane next. You can’t be too careful, especially these days.
      Thanks for the compliment. 🙂

  2. As much as I enjoy flying, I do agree that staying healthy is easier said than done. That being said, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to keep healthy is by washing your hands constantly. It’s probably the easiest way to stave off germs, outside of loading yourself up with vitamin C or hydrating, as you detailed.

  3. These are all great tips and thankfully, I do practice most of them and especially since I travel with kids. We also bring our own travel pillow just in case. I usually take the airborne or plenty of Vitamin C before flights but I may need to look into probiotic capsules. Thanks!

    • Taking a travel pillow is a great idea – we do that as well! Thanks for mentioning that; I’d forgotten all about that. It’s definitely worth mentioning and I’m going to add it to the article. 🙂

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