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Leaving on a jet plane? Here’s how to protect yourself.


It’s a tense time for travelers, with outbreaks of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) occurring around the globe and influenza circulating widely. If you have a trip planned, stay abreast of travel restrictions and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and talk with your doctor if you are elderly or have a health condition. Understanding the realities of potential exposure to viruses during air travel and taking steps to minimize risks can make your journey safer and less stressful. Ramp up your hand hygiene. Communal surfaces abound in airports and on planes, which means (a) you’ll want to touch as little as possible, and (b) hand hygiene is paramount. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when that’s not convenient, and use a tissue rather than your bare fingers for touchscreens (and then throw away the tissue). Don’t touch your face. Rubbing your eyes, resting your chin in your hand, or scratching your nose can be hard habits to break. Be vigilant, and keep tissues close at hand. If you have an itchy nose, something in your eye, or otherwise need to touch your face, use a tissue as a buffer. Breathe easier. If you’re worried that the air circulating inside a typical airplane cabin is teeming with viruses and other microbes, rest assured that that’s unlikely. Most commercial airplanes use a series of HEPA filters that run about 20–30 times an hour, and once you reach cruising altitude, you’re breathing 50 percent outside air, which is sterile. Furthermore, air circulates within small areas in a plane, which minimizes how far virus particles move. That said, sitting within two rows of someone who is ill may expose you. Keep that hand hygiene going! Disinfect surfaces. Wiping down your tray table, armrests, and other hard surfaces with a sanitizing wipe may help, but—broken record alert—be sure to still wash or sanitize your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. If possible, pick a window seat. One study showed that sitting in a window seat and staying put for the duration of the flight can minimize your exposure to people who may be ill. For short flights, staying in your seat may work, but keep in mind that flying more than four hours increases the risk of blood clots and it’s important to stretch your legs frequently. You can do this by walking or by extending your legs in front of you while you’re seated and flexing your ankles, then pointing your toes, several times.

(Cleveland Clinic Wellness)

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