Exposure to airborne diseases

Although the air quality in a plane cabin is carefully controlled, the humidity is lower than at sea level. This may dry up saliva,​ tears and mucus which serve as your body’s first line of defence against germs.

Interestingly, the risk of contracting contagious airborne diseases such as the flu has less to do with the aircraft’s ventilation system than you might think. In actual fact, using the air vent above you might help to keep the germs of your sneezing neighbour at bay.

Contagious airborne diseases have the best chance to spread when passengers touch common areas which have been infected.

“It’s not just the bathroom doors and taps,” says Dr Limin Wijaya, Senior Consultant at the Travel Clinic, and Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group​. “Germs can be found anywhere on a plane and around your seat. Watch out for the armrests, seat pockets, tray table, touchscreen entertainment system and the inflight magazines.”​

How to avoid catching the flu and other airborne diseases

If you’re concerned about catching the flu on the plane, you may want to get a flu vaccine two weeks before your flight, so that you can benefit from its protective effects. This vaccine is generally good to have, as it protects you from the flu virus all year round.

During the flight, drink a lot of water, and avoid drinks that promote dehydration such as alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.

You may also wear a face mask if your immune system is down.

Best of all, bring a small bottle of hand sanitiser and use it regularly. You may also consider taking some alcohol swabs or towelettes with you to clean your touchscreen entertainment system and other surfaces​ you’re likely to touch.

Click on page 5 for more health hazards that affect frequent flyers and tips on how to prevent them.

Ref: Q15