Getting sick on the plane: the good news and bad news

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Travelsick woman
Up and away – and down with a bug

So you’re off somewhere nice on one of those shiny new airliners – a Boeing 787 Dreamliner or and Airbus 380. Jet-set you, all ready to enjoy yourself.

Just possibly as you board, a little thought niggles you. These are long-haul aircraft – you’re going to be sitting here for eight hours or more. Breathing the same air, sharing the same space as several hundred other people.

What if you catch a germ?

Actually, chances are pretty good that you won’t. Not from the aircraft anyway. Up in the sky you’re breathing air that’s completely refreshed 20 times an hour, purified by hospital grade high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

Those cold or flu like feelings you sometimes get are nothing to do with infection. It’s just how your body reacts after several hours in a bone-dry, oxygen thin cabin atmosphere. Sometimes they linger, sometimes they don’t.

But the filters take out 99.97% of bacteria in your immediate area. In fact every seven rows has its own independent ventilation system. So if something makes you feel queasy on a flight, it’s not from the air being pumped at you.

Fellow passengers though, are another matter. Not from how healthy they are, but from what they do. If you’re going to catch a bug from the person sitting next to you, eight hours is still a very short exposure time. Unless of course, they’re sneezing all over you.

Consider though, the environment that you’re in. Sure, you’re going somewhere nice, but for the next eight hours you’re a prisoner to your seat. You might go to the loo to stretch your legs, but most of the time you’re just sitting there, you can’t really move.

OK, so what happens with trolley service and meals? You’ve had your drink, a good holiday vodka and orange juice – now they come at you with a full tray of dinner. So where do you put your plastic glass and drink can?

Only one place, the seat-back pocket.

Don’t go there. Because that is the place everyone puts everything. And if the cabin crew aren’t actually collecting trash at the moment you need them to, that’s where it all goes. Along with your tissues, your book, the well-thumbed magazine, the flight safety guide and…

Oh, oh, there’s the seat belt sign, just as Mum is changing a nappy. Into the seat pocket it goes, along with the half-finished Mars bar from a previous flight, an apple core and a wad of well-chewed gum.

Not from your flight of course. That stuff was lifted out before you boarded. But the residue is still there, the stuff you can’t see. And because nobody can wash their hands just sitting there, it’s on the tray table as well. On the armrests and seat back. Invisible MRSA and e. Coli. Or maybe worse.

And don’t even think about the blankets and pillows.

Yet all the while the HEPA units are pumping out fresh, filtered air. You’re safe, but you’re not safe, all at the same time. Though that’s mostly on long-haul. A lot of regional jets don’t have the same filter units. That quick hop to Ibiza or Magaluf might be more iffy than you’d like.

Which makes hygiene on the ground more critical than airlines think. A quick wipe down with an antiseptic cloth will not sort germs in the seat pocket or upholstery. Because research already shows viruses and bacteria can survive in those areas for up to a week.

There is one sure way to remove them though.

Sterilise the whole aircraft pre-flight.

Mist up the entire interior with a powerful oxidising spray of hydrogen peroxide in which harmful pathogens cannot survive. Dispersed by mobile auto-robots for the main cabin interior, with a generous squirt from hand-held units into every seat pocket.

All before anybody boards.

That mist kills 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria in the air – and on every surface it makes contact with – head cushions, armrests, hand rails, window covers, overhead lockers – everything.

Electrostatically charged, it reaches into corners and crevices too – especially tray tables, even though they’re folded away. Boosted by colloidal silver to perform better.

You want to eat off that? You can.

Just make sure though, that your airline actually does all this.

Otherwise, if you’re worried – sit tight, use alcohol hand-wipes – and save your appetite for when you’re back on the ground.

The HEPA units will keep you safe until then.

Originally posted on 14 May 2018 @ 5:32 pm