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22 Things You Shouldn’t Do on an Airplane

Traveling is stressful as it is, so let’s not add the burden of getting sick from the flight to your itinerary. Experts reveal where the germs are hiding and how to stay healthy and comfortable while airborne.

Empty airplaneMint Images/Getty Images

Smooth (air) sailing

Utilizing air travel requires a lot of remembering: Did I pack all the clothes I need? How about my toiletries? Did I bring along my passport? The mental checklists are endless. But here’s one checklist you won’t need to keep track of mentally—as long as you make sure to never do these 22 things on your flight, you should experience smooth sailing (but we can’t always guarantee no turbulence!) Also, don’t forget to brush up on the things you won’t see in airports anymore before your trip.

Close-up of airplane lavatory door with sign reading 'occupied'Chase Jarvis/Getty Images

Don’t line up for the bathroom

While it can be tempting to wait in line outside of the airplane bathroom to make sure nobody cuts in line before you, this is actually a habit that many stopped doing due to COVID-19. However, it could be worth ditching altogether. “If passengers brazenly queue up for the bathroom mid-flight, those who are seated near to the toilets will have no choice but to be in close proximity with several people. So, don’t disregard other passengers’ safety just because this system wasn’t a health issue previously,” says Satwinder Singh of Citrus Holidays.

RELATED: Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom

Don’t forget to throw an extra hand sanitizer in your bag

Although it’s still common to find hand sanitizer both in airports and on airplanes, it’s important to bring along your own hygienic supplies just in case.”Because aircraft are small enclosed spaces, they have many ‘high touch’ areas,” aviation industry expert Steve Deane of Stratos Jet Charters says. “For example, it’s very common for passengers walking up the aisle to touch the top of every seat along the way to steady themselves.” By sanitizing your hands before and after touching items while on your flight, you can help prevent the spread of germs to both yourself and others. Don’t forget to bring along some disinfectant wipes, as well.

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Purchased airplane food on tray in airplaneJodiJacobson/Getty Images

Don’t forget to check in-flight service options

Airlines cut back on in-flight services, including food and beverage services, during the pandemic. However, some airlines have resumed certain in-flight services as more travelers book flights. American Airlines has resumed beverage service on flights and Delta Air Lines has resumed serving snacks. Each airline is different though, so it’s best to check which in-flight services the airline offers before boarding your flight. You can also buy snacks and drinks before boarding.

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Don’t neglect to bring multiple masks

Federal law requires all travelers over the age of two to wear masks in airports and on planes through at least September 13. A good tip is to bring multiple masks to wear while in the air. “If you wear a paper or cloth mask, you can expect it to get moist after a few hours. This can make breathing less comfortable,” Bob Bacheler, managing director of Flying Angels, says. Switching your mask every few hours can make your overall flight experience more comfortable while still staying cautious.

RELATED: When Can We Stop Wearing Face Masks? Experts Weigh In

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Please! Don’t walk around barefoot

Flight attendants have seen everything from vomit to blood to spilled food hit that carpet. “We see people walking from their seats into the bathrooms all the time barefoot and we cringe because those floors are full of germs,” says Linda Ferguson, a flight attendant for 24 years. “Never walk barefoot into the bathroom or the galley area because sometimes we drop glasses and there could be sharp glass there, too.”

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02_ice_in_drink_travel_tips_airplane_MichaelMichael Krinke/iStock

Skip the ice in your drink

An EPA study in 2004 found that out of 327 aircraft’s water supplies, only 15 percent passed health standards. Since the 2009 creation of the EPA’s Aircraft Drinking Rule Act, standards have risen and most airplanes don’t serve drinking water from the tap, but their ice cubes are often still made from the same water. “Water tanks on an airplane are old and they’ve tested them and bacteria is in those tanks,” explains Ferguson. “I would definitely drink bottled water—that’s why they hoard tons of bottles on an airplane.”

RELATED: Things You Should Never Eat on an Airplane

Don’t sit in your seat the entire flight

On an airplane, you are at a higher risk to develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is a type of blood clot that usually forms in your legs. DVT has been coined as “economy-class syndrome” and walking around for a few minutes or standing up to stretch are good bets to help prevent it. (Just remember to put your shoes on!) Also, try to avoid tight clothing that could cut off circulation while in flight. “The most important thing is to try to move around and move your legs at least once every hour,” says Catherine Sonquist Forest, MD, a primary care doctor at Stanford University Health Care. “If you can’t get up, you can do exercises in your seat by lifting alternate knees up to your chest and twisting in your chair from side to side.”

RELATED: Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane, According to Flight Attendants

Ditch your contact lenses

If you can, opt to wear glasses while in flight. The air in the cabin is very dry and can cause irritation to your eyes. Also, if you’re a known sky snoozer, falling asleep in contacts not made for overnight wear can be especially irritating. This tip is especially important in the current health climate created by COVID-19. “Contact lens wearers have a higher risk of transmitting the virus through their eyes,” says Dr. Kevin Lee, an ophthalmologist at Golden Gate Eye Associates. This is extra true if contact lens wearers don’t practice good hygiene, such as not properly cleaning their lenses or not washing their hands before putting the lenses in, among other things. So ditch your contacts for both your comfort and your health on your next flight.

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Don’t turn off the air vent over your seat

If the air blowing makes you chilly, it might be smarter to throw on a sweatshirt rather than turn off the vent. Doctors recommend that the adjustable air over your seat should be set to medium or high in flight so that any airborne germs can be blown away before they enter your personal zone.

RELATED: Is Recirculated Air on Airplanes Safe?

06_food_on_tray_travel_trips_airplane_LeslieLeslie Banks/iStock

Don’t eat food after it’s fallen on the tray table

Airline crews do their best to sanitize the plane, but it’s wise to let that cookie crumb go if it hits the tray and not your plate. “The tray table is notorious,” says Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Those tray tables are used for all kinds of things,” adds Ferguson. “During flights, I’ve seen parents changing babies on top of tray tables. I’ve seen people put their bare feet on top of tray tables.” One study found that trays harbor an average of 2,155 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. Compare that with the 265 units on the lavatory flush button. And while all samples tested negative for potentially infectious bacteria such as E. coli, you’ll still want to steer clear of that tray. An extra safety tip in the time of COVID-19: Wipe down your tray table and any other surfaces with disinfectant wipes before using.

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Don’t use the blankets

Another airplane item that doesn’t get a thorough cleaning between flights? Yup, those blankets and pillows offered in the seatback are recycled flight to flight and usually don’t get properly washed until the day is over. Items like pillows and blankets are ideal places for germs and lice to camp out and spread from person to person. “I see people wrap their feet in the blankets, I see people sneeze in the blankets,” Ferguson adds. Bring your own blankets or warmer clothes, like sweatshirts or jackets, to stay warm while flying.

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Don’t forget to stay hydrated

Parched throat mid-flight? Don’t just blame the salty snacks. Airplane cabins are known for their low humidity because the manufactured air in the cabin is made to mimic the highest altitude humans can breathe at, usually between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, according to the World Health Organization. “For every leg of [a] flight, each flight attendant will try to drink a full 16 oz. of water,” says Ferguson. “That’s the most important. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.” Staying hydrated is especially important in order to avoid COVID-19. “Your mucous membranes dry out in flight, especially in flights over two hours, because of the pressurized cabin,” explains Dr. Bita Nasseri, a physician based out of Beverly Hills. “Your mucous membranes function much more efficiently and effectively when moist and can better repel any viral or bacterial infection.” So keep drinking!

RELATED: Common Myths About Airplanes You Need to Stop Believing

coffee and a napkin on airplane tray tabledreamsseeker2/Getty Images

Opt out of coffee or tea

You don’t want to drink anything that could possibly be made with the tap water from the plane. Even though the water for tea and coffee is usually boiled, if you can opt for bottled water or another beverage from a sealed container you should. Another reason to avoid coffee and tea: Caffeinated beverages aren’t your best bet while flying. “Caffeine slightly dehydrates you,” Dr. Forest says. “It’s not a huge problem to drink caffeine, but include water also.”

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Plastic cup of red wine on an airplane trayAlexander Spatari/Getty Images

Don’t booze too much

While a nice glass of wine can take some of the edge off of traveling, alcohol is extremely dehydrating. Combine that with the low humidity of the plane and your body’s in for a drying experience. In addition, the thin air of a plane makes the effects of alcohol hit you faster, and harder. Not to mention that excessive drinking lowers your immune system in general, so this tip goes for pre-flight rituals at the airport bar as well. “One drink in the air is like drinking two on the ground—it can affect you faster,” says Ferguson. “We’ve been known to water down drinks a lot or if someone just keeps wanting glasses of wine, we’ll pour half a glass instead of a whole glass.”

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Don’t touch the flush button in the bathroom

Like other public spaces on the plane, the bathroom is also a major place where germs hide out. To protect yourself, wash your hands thoroughly and use a paper towel to press the flush button and open the door. “When you go to the bathroom, the right thing to do is always wash your hands, dry your hands with a towel, and then use the towel to turn off the water and even open up the door,” says Dr. Forest. “You don’t want to not flush the toilet—everyone should flush the toilet—but wash your hands with soapy water and use a towel.”

RELATED: What Actually Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?

Don’t fall asleep against the window

You’re not the only one who has had their head pressed against that wall. Who knows who else has breathed, sneezed, and coughed against that glass you doze off against while your head’s in the clouds? “I see plenty of people carry Lysol wipes with them that will wipe the area around their seat,” says Ferguson. “If there was a backlight and they could light up a plane with all the germs, I think it would petrify everybody. My rule of thumb, and I never get sick, is I never put my hands in my mouth or near my face.”

RELATED: Can Never Sleep on an Airplane? Seasoned Travelers Spill 14 Snoozing Secrets

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Don’t wear shorts

If you can, try to wear clothing that covers skin that could touch your seat. Even if the seats are cleaned after each flight, germs can still linger, so play it safe by wearing clothing that covers your skin.

RELATED: 10 Things Airplanes Aren’t Cleaning as They Should

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Don’t feel embarrassed to tell a flight attendant you’re not feeling well

Never think your health and safety is an inconvenience to what may seem like an already stressed flight crew. Flight attendants are trained to help with medical emergencies, even learning how to properly handle a childbirth before becoming certified. “Flight attendants are completely trained,” explains Ferguson. “If you’re not feeling well, definitely speak up. You don’t want to be sick on a plane—that’s the worst.”

RELATED: Things Flight Attendants Aren’t Allowed to Do Anymore

Don’t get stuck with the middle seat

More than half of Americans would rather go to the dentist than get stuck between two of their fellow fliers, according to a 2009 survey by the Global Strategy Group. Alas, sometimes the middle is all that’s left. Boost your chance of escaping it by setting a free alert on expertflyer.com. You select the type of seat you prefer (window or aisle) and your flight number. When a seat that meets your needs opens up, you’ll get an email. Then you can go to the airline’s website and change your assignment.

RELATED: The Real Reasons Behind Those Weird Airplane Safety Rules

Don’t skip your A.M. skin care

Just because you’ll be inside doesn’t mean you can skip sunblock. One small study found that pilots flying for an hour got the same amount of radiation as if they had spent 20 minutes in a tanning bed. You’ll also want to moisturize to prevent parched and itchy skin—an airplane’s pressurized air is notoriously dry.

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Don’t fall asleep before takeoff

If you do, it will be harder for you to equalize the pressure in your ears (which you’ll do more quickly if you chew gum or yawn). If you’re prone to flight-induced headaches, hold off on your snooze until your ears pop.

RELATED: Air Travel Tips to Follow for Smooth Flying

Don’t guzzle a soda

An increase in altitude may cause intestinal gas to expand up to 30 percent, so you might want to avoid consuming carbonated drinks in the clouds. Keep your stomach settled with bottled water. Next, if you’re planning a cruise, read up on the things you won’t see on cruises anymore to stay in the loop.

Sources:

  • Satwinder Singh of Citrus Holidays
  • Steve Deane, aviation industry expert of Stratos Jet Charters
  • American Airlines Newsroom: “American Reintroduces Beverage Service as Customers Return to the Skies”
  • Delta Air Lines: “Food, Services & Amenities”
  • Transportation Security Administration: “TSA extends face mask requirement at airports and throughout the transportation network”
  • Bob Bacheler, managing director of Flying Angels
  • Linda Ferguson, flight attendant
  • Catherine Sonquist Forest, MD, primary care doctor at Stanford University Health Care
  • Dr. Kevin Lee, ophthalmologist at Golden Gate Eye Associates
  • Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
  • Dr. Bita Nasseri, physician based out of Beverly Hills