Air Travel 101: 9 Tips for Healthier Flying   


By Maureen Sangiorgio

It’s summer travel season, when many of us take to the skies, willing to endure minor discomforts — close quarters and flight delays — for some fun in the sun. But those cramped airplanes can feel like tin cans, where we share limited space and unlimited germs. Between long spates of doing nothing but sitting down and being stuck in stale, dry cabin air, you’re ripe for some health risks. But there are plenty of ways to protect yourself.

Follow these 8 tips to stay healthy in the air — from well before takeoff to a safe landing:

1. Ask about shots. Weeks before you fly internationally, do a pre-travel check-in with your doctor. Certain countries require vaccines well in advance in order for entering the country. In some cases, you’ll need certain medicines as well. You can also ask your local or county health departments for guidelines. Some even run have own travel clinics, where you can get the required vaccines and other health services. Learn all about it at the CDC’s travel page.

2. Be on guard. As your travel date gets closer, get proactive about your health. Just as you expect the usual hassles of air travel, such as endless check-in lines, best to assume you’ll be exposed to germs when you fly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a full one-fifth of airplane contract a respiratory infection bad enough to need medical care. That means 20% of everyone around youwill start out in a plane and wind up in a doctor’s office. So commit to some timely, and protective preparation. 

3. Pack a mini medicine cabinet. Consider prevention as essential as comfortable shoes: savvy travelers pack for the worst. Bring the prescriptions for your medications as well as the medications themselves. And pack a travel health kit with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies: you never know what you’re going to need in the middle of vacationland. A suggested checklist includes:

— antidiarrhea, antacid, and mild laxative, for digestion issues

— antihistamine and decongestant, for cold and respiratory issues

— acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen for pain and fever

— antifungal and hydrocortisone cream for skin issues.

Also: pack remedies for motion sickness and /or altitude sickness, a sleep aid, water purification tablets, and hand sanitizer — which you should use constantly while you’re on the plane.

4. Give your immune system a boost. A few days before your travel date, start eating to support your immune system. Here’s an easy-to-make salad loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E, and zinc: Toss together spinach, kale, red bell pepper, and toasted sunflower seeds. Top with zinc-rich lean meat or seafood, such as grilled flank steak strips or shrimp. Douse with an orange juice and olive oil dressing.  

5. Sanitize everything you touch. The moment you set foot in the airport, break out that bottle of hand sanitizer: germs are everywhere, and they love doors and handles. On the plane, use it every time you do everything: after you read a magazine, take a snack someone’s passed you, use the lavatory, take a walk down the aisle, get your bag from the overhead, even put your hands on the back of the seats or put on your seatbelt. The theme here: you don’t know, so sanitize.

6. Hydrate, and hydrate again. The drier the air, the less our nostrils can filter out germs as we breath. And the air inside a plane is generally very dry. So drink plenty of water to compensate. Further, dehydration decreases our body’s ability to acclimate to high altitude. Drink plenty of water before you board, during the flight, and well after you land. And cut back on the your alcohol and caffeine consumption before andduring the trip to help stave off dehydration. 

7. Take a walk. Germs aren’t the only health culprit here: poor circulation is another risk of plane travel. The CDC recommends a lot of walking while in the air. Anyone who travels more than four hours, whether by air, car, bus, or train, can be at risk for developing deep vein thrombosis or leg blood clots. As well as walking, there are simple exercises that can help: pull your knee up toward the chest and hold it there for the count of 15; repeat up to 10 times with each leg. Another mantra: When in doubt, get up and take a walk.

8. Eat carefully. With few exceptions, eating while traveling should be an exercise in caution. Poor hygiene in local restaurants is a key risk factor for travelers’ diarrhea, which affects up to half of all international travelers according to the CDC. This isn’t the time to head for sushi or snack on raw treats: go for freshly cooked and hot, and make sure your utensils are clean. Along with obvious risks, such as raw or undercooked meat and seafood, stay away from unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables as well.

9. Indulge in elderberry. Marry the modernity of air travel with elderberry, a traditional cold and flu remedy. Elder berries and elder flowers have long been used to treat colds and flu and boost the immune system — for good reason. Nutrients recently published a landmark study in which air travelers took elderberry with great results. Compared to the subjects given a placebo, the those who took a unique, proprietary elderberry formula (provided by Iprona AG, Italy), got less sick, with less severe symptoms, and for less time —5 days — versus 7 days for the placebo group. Best of all, elderberry-taking group also experienced better overall health after their flight, so they could get down to business, and have a great vacation.

Maureen Sangiorgio is an award-winning health writer based in Macungie, PA. Maureen has been extensively published in national media consumer publications such as Parade and Spry Living magazines. Awards include Radcliffe College’s Exceptional Merit Media award, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s National Health Information Gold award. Learn more about berries at, and follow twitter and facebook discussions  @TheBerryRoom