Plane gross: beware of the germ factories when travelling

Planes and airports are rife with germs, but you can take precautions to help ensure your holiday is not ruined by illness.
Planes and airports are rife with germs, but you can take precautions to help ensure your holiday is not ruined by illness. Photo: Reuters

Don't let stray germs ruin your travel plans.

Here's something to brighten up your travel prospects. Airports and planes are major gathering places for microbes from around the world, says Peter J. Sheldon Sr, a vice president with the Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, a company that cleans places such as hospitals. Nothing ruins a trip more than spending it in bed with a bug you picked up during the travel, he said. And there's no better way to spread them than pack a lot of people into a small place.

So be cautious and take steps to stay well, Sheldon said. The first line of defense, is to carry a hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. Then, know the favorite places where germs and viruses to linger.

1. The plane toilet

The plane toilet is the germiest place on a trip, or for that matter, any toilet in a transportation hub. E. coli and other infectious agents can be on any surface. The tiny sink, door handles, even the paper dispensers have germs. The facilities devices are rarely cleaned adequately between flights, especially continuing flights.

Advice: Avoid using the plane toilet. If you must, use paper towels to turn faucets on and off and to open the door. Close the lid of the toilet before flushing. Carry sanitising wipes and use them when you exit

2. Onboard magazines

Passengers don't wash their hands before reading an airplane magazine, and often they lick their fingers as they turn the page.

Advice: Bring your own reading material and avoid touching anything on the back of the seat except the emergency evacuation instructions. Use the alcohol wipes.

3. Water fountains

Public drinking fountains can harbor as many as 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot.

Advice: Avoid fountains. Bring water in small bottles. Often check-ins allow sealed bottles. Or buy water from vendors in the terminal. On the plane, ask for bottled water from the beverage cart as on-board tap water can carry microbes.

4. The airline pillows and blankets

Of 100 pillows and blankets on an airplane, five will be contaminated with cold or flu viruses from coughs, sneezes or drool, says Sheldon.

Advice: Rather than risk the dice throw of on-board pillows and blankets, bring your own U-shaped neck pillow. Or, wear an extra layer of clothing if you're prone to chills. Use your coat as a blanket and ball up that sweater for a pillow.

5. The security line

No one itches to walk through an airport security line, but you may be itching afterwards if you let your feet go commando. You can pick up foot infections including athlete's foot and mysterious grunge from others' shoes.

Advice: Always wear socks when travelling to avoid barefoot time. Wear sturdy shoes on the flight in case of emergencies.

MCT

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