10 Best Ways to Stay Healthy on a Plane

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With all the scary news stories about passengers carrying diseases from abroad, it can sound like everyone is doomed to get sick after a plane flight. Not true.

Sure, only half of the cabin air is replaced with fresh during a commercial flight (the rest is recycled) … but even so, there are ways to stay healthy during air travel.

You can do quite a few things when you're flying that will substantially reduce the risk of getting sick on a plane. Here are 10 of our favorite air travel health tips. (We actually have more—see below.)

plastic figure in foreground, waving out the airport window at a plane parked and ready for passengers. Text overlay says 10 ways to stay healthy on a plane

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 plain old common sense — and you probably 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.

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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.

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 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 screen you 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. Drink bottled water.

Are you planning to drink the tap water on board a plane? If so, you might want to read this article from the Wall Street Journal before you do. Trust me on this: If you want to stay healthy, 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 will be questionable, you might want to consider investing in a portable LifeStraw personal water filter bottle. We haven't tried it yet, but blogger friends swear by it, so we are considering one for our next Third World trip.

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 and wipe down everything … armrests, tray table and latch, light switch, seat reclining button, remote control … you name it.

Tip: Keep them handy so you can sanitize your hands again 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. Photo credit: Flickr/Doug

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. Besides the fact that it's not fun to wear wet socks back to your seat, can you be sure that the wet stuff on the floor is only water?

I'm just saying.

6. Relax.

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

Me? As a book lover, my Kindle Oasis is a lifesaver. It saves a TON of weight and space, when compared to physical books, so I can carry a library with me everywhere I go. You'll find it in my bag on every single trip, long or short. That way, when I tire of the on-board Bollywood movies, I can be sure I will always have something interesting to read.

Another thing: It was my most priceless possession in Bali, where English-language books are hard to find.

Tip: You can download Amazon's Kindle app to most laptops, tablets and mobile phones. (Get it here, FREE.)

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7. Get some rest.

Good old “R&R” (rest and relaxation) is 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, keep in mind that blankets and pillows often end up on the floor, which is incredibly filthy.

As an alternative, layer your clothing for temperature comfort and use an inflatable neck pillow. They don't take up much space in your carry-on bag and, I was surprised to discover, they are far more comfortable than the little pillows that the airlines provide.

Linda uses inflatable travel pillow while flying

9. Use your own headset.

Even the wrapped headsets that are distributed by the flight attendants are suspect. 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 that 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.

Plan your trip

Here are some links to help you plan your own trip.

  • Lodging: Check hotel prices at HotelsCombined or Booking.
  • Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
  • Private tours: Want a unique experience? We have had good experiences with Get Your Guide, a reputable source for booking a wide variety of local tours, attractions and activities. That's why we've chosen to affiliate ourselves with them. Find tours here.
  • For longer trips, check out G Adventures. Their itineraries are affordable and at a range of comfort levels.

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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 has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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

  1. 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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