Best Travel Tips: How to Avoid Airplane Cold

Dr. Ernest BrownWellnessLeave a Comment

It’s finally time to leave for your trip. You’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money to make this happen, and the last thing you need is an airplane cold to ruin it all. That’s why we’ve taken the time to give you the tips you need to avoid airplane cold.

According to a study cited by the Wall Street Journal, airplane passengers have an increased risk of catching the common cold by as much as 20 percent. Another study, reported by the Journal of Environmental Health Research, found that transmitting colds may be 100 times more likely during air travel than on a normal day on the ground.

So how do you avoid airplane cold during your trip?

Airplane Cold Sneeze



If you’ve followed the advice from our “What to Pack in Carry On Luggage” article, you’re well prepared for your a healthy trip. To start, we’d recommend taking a boost of your favorite multivitamin the day before and the day of travel to build up your immune system. The best airplane cold remedies, after all, are preparation and prevention.

But there are a few behaviors to consider on your travel day to make sure you’re not letting your guard down:

Ensure carry-on items actually travel with you

Remember, if you end up on a smaller plane with mandatory curbside valet bag-check for carry-ons, you may need to do some last-minute rearranging. Be sure your medicines, healthy snacks, water and your sweater will be within reach once you board in your “personal item” (like a backpack or large purse).

Position yourself strategically

If you’re up-to-date on our summer travel series, you already know that window seat arm rests are cleaner than those of aisle seats, so perhaps you’ve already reserved a spot away from aisle traffic.

But what happens when someone who’s clearly ill sits near you? Unfortunately, being within six feet of someone who is sick increases your chance of coming down with whatever they have.

Simply ask to be re-seated.

Most airlines will be happy to do so if possible, especially if you’re volunteering to be in an exit row or to help travel companions sit together. If not, they should be willing to provide you a protective mask.

Note: If you’re particularly susceptible to colds, viruses or allergies, consider traveling with your own face mask (especially during flu season).

Once you’re seated, adjust your overhead air vent, pointing down with the current flowing vertically in front of your face so excessive dry air is diverted away from your your nasal passages.

Clean those hands

The best strategy for how to avoid airplane cold is to wash your hands often and thoroughly, including under the nails.

Use your sanitizing wipes to clean everything you’re likely to touch, including armrests, touch screens, overhead lights and vents and tray tables. Be wary of the doorknob as you come out of the lavatory.

Airplane bathroom


Use the wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your hands when soap and water are unavailable and after coming into contact with anything others have touched before you, including the overhead bin handles.

Watch what you touch

Even if you’ve been vigilant about clean hands, your strategy for how to avoid airplane cold will be more likely to succeed if you embrace your inner germaphobe and avoid touching things unnecessarily. For instance, if you take public transportation to or from the airport, sitting down is better than standing because it reduces the need to hold on to the same pole countless others have touched.

While you’re at it, try to avoid the habit of touching your face. It’s especially important to not inadvertently introduce germs into your mouth or by rubbing your eyes or nose.

Be careful what you ingest

Don’t get so caught up in what you touch or breathe that you forget to pay attention to what you’re eating. If you’ll be having an in-flight snack or meal, start by choosing healthier options such as those lower in fat and sugar and higher in lean protein, whole grains and vegetables.

Also make sure items are wrapped and that hot food is served piping hot. If not, send it back or give it a pass. In recent years, the FDA has discovered many unsanitary conditions surrounding the preparation and storage of airplane food, so be wary of hot meals with cold spots in the middle, bearing in mind that high temperatures are a safeguard against many bacteria that cause illnesses.

Remember, you can avoid airplane food altogether by eating the healthy snack you’ve packed in advance or carefully choosing items from airport shops before boarding.

Make hydration your new best friend

Drinking water.


We can’t say this enough: Drink lots of water. Flight attendants are usually happy to give you an extra bottle, so just ask. It’s critically important that you stay hydrated.

Also, remember to use your saline nasal spray to keep nasal passages moist to properly flush out germs. Drinking hot liquids can also help, but avoid caffeine as it encourages dehydration. For the same reason, avoid alcohol.

Ease body tensions

Chances are, by the time you sit down in the confined space of the plane, you’ve done a lot of running around and wrestled a heavy bag into the overhead compartment. If you were running behind, you’re probably feeling rushed and maybe even a little stressed. Your body is tired.

Now’s the time to unwind a bit.

Reduce flight anxiety and stress


Once you’re seated, take a few minutes to pay attention to your breathing, inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly through your nose. Rotating your ankles or taking turns holding a neck stretch to one side for 30 seconds, followed by the other, can also help ease some of the types of stress that makes you more susceptible to illness.

If you have an extended flight, take a trip to the lavatory (even it you don’t have to use it) as it’s a good opportunity to stretch your legs.

Remember these few steps the next time you’re on a plane, and you’ll dramatically increase your ability to avoid airplane code… and a call to house call doctor.

See more about travel health from Dr. Ernest Brown as featured on

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