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The Neurotic Nerd: avoid getting sick on planes

Here is the first installment from the contributor the Neurotic Nerd:

Hello from the Neurotic Nerd. I am a recovering hypochondriac who regularly freaks out about the following: money (the lack thereof), bed bugs, apartment catastrophes, and plane crashes. I am also a refugee from the academy. I got my MA in Freaking Out. I will be chiming in on these topics from time to time. Today we’re going to talk about how planes make me sick. Literally!

I complained to my uncle, who is an allergist, that I always get another upper respiratory infection (hypochondriac-speak for cold) or sinus infection after a flight. “I use Afrin before take-off and take lots of Emergen-C and everything!” I whined. “But I still get sick! My nose can’t handle the pressure.” (Granted, some of my tendency toward illness after flying might be due to my fear of flying, which stresses me out so bad that I look and feel like a rag doll that got caught in a spin cycle after a flight. I’m also usually drunk because that’s how I cope. Don’t judge.)

“It’s not the pressure,” he said, shaking his head. “I have a patient who works for an airline. Do you know how often they clean their air vents on those planes? He confirmed what I suspected: never. Planes are a massive circulating germ pool.”
So, ew. Then I started thinking of how many times my tray table has been covered in . . . something wet. Or I’ve nervously flipped through the safety brochure in the seat back or eased my nervous mind by reading Sky Mall. After a zillion other people have touched them. Or taken a sip of the water that clearly didn’t come from a fresh bottle.
Then I started thinking about that guy who had the really bad TB and still flew on a super-long flight, endangering all of this fellow passengers. Didn’t the CDC quarantine him or something after he got home?
Not to get all Howard Hughes on you, but planes are incredibly germy.
Maybe, like me, you want one less thing to worry about while on them. Maybe you also don’t want to spend your trip hacking up a lung from some tropical flu you caught in coach. Never fear, there are some things we can do to fly without phlegm:
1. Travel bleach wipes: I think Clorox/Lysol sells these in the travel section of the drugstore–little travel packs of bleach wipes for the kitchen/bath. (As opposed to wipes for your or a baby’s butt.) Buy some. If you are going to use your tray table, swipe it first. People will give you weird looks. Just think about how they are going to get Montezuma’s revenge from the flight and you won’t.
2. Sanitizing hand wipes: More wipes! Alcohol-based hand wipes are better than the sanitizer from the bottle because they do not just neutralize the germs on your hands but remove the germs from your hands altogether. Use them liberally on a plane, particularly before you touch your mouth or nose.
3. Cocktails: I’m not going to tell you to skip booze on the flight because I’m sure as hell not going to. I will say that you should try to keep hydrated, so have a glass of water for every drink you have. A hydrated person gets sick less. *Don’t drink so much that you wind up peeing in the aisle, like Gerard Depardieu.
4. Water: There are a shit-ton of germs in tap water on planes. Don’t drink it. Buy one of those horrible-tasting bottles of Dasani from Hudson News if you have to (but I would go with Fiji, personally). Avoid ice in drinks.
5. Emergen-C and vitamins: Take some if you are flying. Experts say they probably won’t do anything. But I say the placebo effect is a powerful thing and it’s worth a shot.
6. Scarves and wraps: Let’s say your seatmate is coughing up a lung. This happened to me on a flight from JFK to St. Thomas. The lady near to me appeared to have an illness out of a Dickens novel and it was freaking me out. So I covered my face with my wrap and scooched away from her for the entirety of the 4 hour flight. I did not get sick at the beach. I like to think it was because of my makeshift medical mask. Don’t be embarrassed to cover your face if someone near you is coughing.
Fear of germs should not be a reason to avoid flights. Now, fear of engines exploding, on the other hand. . . . But that’s a topic for another day.
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3 Comments on “The Neurotic Nerd: avoid getting sick on planes”

  1. Brian K says:

    What about wearing face masks? We also use the clorox wipes as soon as we get into the hotel and wipe down every hard surface we plan on touching (telephone, alarm clock, door knobs, etc.) Does the alcohol sterilize the ice? Hmmm… Something to think about. I also never put anything I plan on touching with my skin into those bins to go through the x-ray machine. I see lots of people put their shoes in those bins and then their cell phones, wallets, and jackets right on top of their shoes or even directly in the bin where some previous person had just put their shoes. You might as well french kiss the sidewalk and call the doctor. I make a point of putting my wallet and cell phone in my bags, shoes directly on the belt, and my jacket into a plastic bag that I can throw away after my round-trip (turn the bag inside out while storing since that is the clean side and then flip it outside in again to use one more time).

  2. Rebecca says:

    That is a good question, about alcohol sterilizing the ice. I think a Science Nerd needs to answer that.

  3. I am still trying to recruit a Science Nerd. In the meantime, I think it would be unsafe to travel without vodka.


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