NY Travel Clinic

How to Stay Healthy on a Plane

Travelling by plane can be hard on your immune system and general health, and can even put you at risk for serious medical conditions. Learn how to stay healthy while you fly, so you can enjoy your vacation.

Before you fly

Travelling in a plane will greatly increase your risk of contracting a cold, as compared to being in your usual land-based environments. So it’s essential that you take measures to improve your immune system.

Vitamin D has been shown to prevent respiratory infections. Several months before you travel, you should have your vitamin D levels tested to determine if you need supplements. The results will dictate what dose of the vitamin you need to use. In general, if you live in the northern parts of the United States, you might be deficient in this vitamin. Vitamin D3 is the form you should use, as it has higher efficacy than D2. You should use about 1000 IU on a daily basis, with a fatty meal, as this protocol is more effective than loading with huge amounts.

Green tea has also been shown to prevent flu infection, at a dose of 1 to 5 cups per day. Black tea can improve your immune system, and help prevent some respiratory diseases. Don’t put milk in your tea, as this will negate its health benefits.

You should have some yogurt several hours before or after tea, as the probiotics it contains will also fight infections.

At the airport

Don’t buy meals at a restaurant. It’s better to pack your own meals and enjoy them before you get on the plane, or on board. You know what they contain, and that you prepared them in a clean environment.

Because you have to remove your shoes at the security check, be sure you wear socks. With thousand of passengers walking on that area, you’ll prevent the possible transmission of several pathogens through the skin of your feet.

On the plane

You can easily catch a cold on a plane because of the low humidity. Lack of moisture makes it easy for viruses to infect us. So drink lots of water while you fly, and avoid alcohol. Have coffee only about 30 minutes before landing, so you can stay alert if you have to drive.

Airplane cabins don’t contain enough outside air, and this also contributes to your risk of infection. An N95 mask can help you avoid infection by cold and flu viruses. This might seem extreme to some, but it’s your health, and many passengers do wear them.

Bring your own pillow and blanket, because you just don’t know if the previous passengers had lice.

Before they serve meals, disinfect your tray with an alcohol-based sanitizer, and then disinfect your hands.

The bathrooms on a plane can be a real biohazard. Use seat covers, and use a paper towel to touch the handle that flushes the toilet. Open the faucet with a paper towel, and after you wash your hands, turn off the faucet with another paper towel. Open the door with a paper towel too.

The most important thing to do

Sitting for long periods can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot that usually occurs in the legs. Being pregnant can increase your risk of DVT, so consider that if you also plan to fly.

You can flex your calf muscles while seated to help prevent DVT. Raise your heels several times while your toes stay on the floor, every 20 minutes. Alternate this by raising your toes, while your heels stay on the floor. Drink lots of water, and walk around the plane about every 30 to 60 minutes.

If you already have DVT, or another circulatory condition, speak with your doctor before you fly.

Flying can be a health hazard in many ways. But you can prepare yourself before you fly, by sleeping enough, and using the proper nutrients. While on board, be careful of the objects you touch, be active, and if you frequently get a cold, consider wearing a mask.