How To Protect Yourself From Coronavirus While Flying In 8 Easy Steps

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How To Protect Yourself From Coronavirus While Flying In 8 Easy Steps
Health And Wellness

As much of the country is under varying degrees of stay-at-home orders, flying during the coronavirus pandemic feels like an unlikely option for many. However, airlines are open and flights are still running.

If work or life demands hopping on a plane, it may sound a bit scary. But precautions can be taken.

According to medical experts, it’s all about social distancing and sanitizing on a plane, much like it is in a grocery store or any other part of life on the ground.

"Travel by commercial airplane during an outbreak increases your risk for a viral infection by 100-fold. Cabin pressures are maintained for higher elevations, lower humidity, and airflow is re-circulated minimally to increase fuel efficiency," says Dr. Ralph E. Holsworth, D.O. Director of Clinical and Scientific Research for Essentia Water.

Worried about flying on an airplane during a pandemic?

Here's how to protect yourself from coronavirus while flying.

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1. Wear a face mask.

It's obviously safer for you and your travel companions to wear a mask on the plane, whether you're in the first class section, the back of the plane, or even are the pilot!

Some sanitary considerations are general while others are very COVID-specific. But, incidentally, where you sit does matter.

"Data from the H1N1 pandemic showed that sitting in first class, toward the front, and most importantly by the window, decreased infection risk," says Dr. Amy Baxter, an emergency medicine specialist. So, you’re farther away from the snifflers as they head to the bathrooms.

While wiping down your area is a no-brainer, wearing a face mask is the most important asset you have. While airline air filtration should catch the COVID virus particles that circulate, your mask is the best protection from an infected neighbor.

Adds Dr. Baxter, "For COVID, specifically, the majority of the infections enter through the nose. Few flights are really long enough to put you at risk of starvation or dehydration, so wear a mask. Ideally, sport the mask and skip the snack. But if you're really hungry, try wearing a nasal swimming clip while eating which will allow for removal of the mask."

2. Don't touch your face.

Refrain from touching your face, nose and eyes. Infections can enter through the nose, eyes, and mouth, so if you end up touching a surface with germs on it, those particles can enter your body if you touch your face. That's why frequent hand-washing and sanitizing is so important.

“Try not to touch your face around the mask as much as possible, as this can transmit viruses you may have touched in high traffic places to your hands,” warns  Dr. Shawn Nasseri, a Mayo Clinic trained ENT.

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3. Wipe, wipe, and wipe again.

Wipe down your immediate area with sanitizing wipes, especially on frequently-touched surfaces.

Says Dr. Nasseri, “Use a wipe or paper towel to open and close the overhead compartment, tray tables, and restroom doors. Use a spray-on sanitizer on high-traffic, high-touch areas, including your seat, armrest, tray table, and areas you will be touching for the next 1-12 hours.”

4. Ditch that checked luggage.

Checked luggage may feel like the easier way to go, but it actually results in more hands handling your luggage. And that creates the opportunity for contamination.

“Carry-ons that can be closed and zipped up are preferable, as it will go through the least sets of hands/contact in order to bring it on and get it off the plane,” Dr. Nasseri advises.

Also, keep purses and other small carry-on bags shut as much as possible, since this is an obvious source of exposure.

5. Don’t use the provided pillow or blanket.

You know those blankets and pillows on planes that no one likes anyway? Don’t use them, no matter how chilly the cabin may be!

"Bring your own freshly laundered or purchased travel pillow and blanket, if possible. Many carriers are not providing them or have limited supplies on flights,” Dr. Nasseri recommends.

6. Boost your immunity before flying.

A healthy immune system is vital during these times, especially before putting yourself in high-traffic areas, like an airport and airplane.

"You want to eat a healthy and not heavy meal prior to the flight. Drink lots of water prior and during so you are hydrated, because your mucous membranes dry out in flight," Dr. Nasseri advises.

It's preferable to be consistent with vitamins, but definitely take a multi-vitamin prior to flight as it improves immune function for those who could be deficient or haven’t been diligent with their vitamins and healthy diet.

Which vitamins should you take? Says Dr. Nasseri, "You want to get adequate Vitamin C, D, B Complex, as well as minerals including zinc and magnesium to best arm yourself... Take a protective vitamin with immune boost. Doses of vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals, have shown definite improvement in immune response.”

While you should boost your immunity before you fly, be sure to keep it up after your flight as well. Frequent nasal saline flushes prior, during and immediately after departing the flight will also help. 

Recommends Dr. Holsworth, "Virus and bacteria colonize in the sinuses at least three days prior to dropping into the lungs and creating infections, but flushing or rinsing the nasal/sinus cavities ensure the viral/bacteria content is decreased. Proper hand hygiene and facial washing after inadvertent touching of the face will also help."

RELATED: The Best Way To Disinfect Your Phone & Keep Yourself Safe From A Coronavirus Outbreak

7. Stay hydrated.

But why should we hydrate? Hydration assists the first line of defense for the body, and it's essential to keep your immune system strong.

Being dehydrated impairs the proper formation of mucus, which lines the sinus cavities, lungs, mouth, and nose allowing pollen, dust and molds to activate the immune system. Says Dr. Holsworth, "The reason is, mucus requires water for formation. Every cavity in the body is lined with cells that produce mucus including cells in the ears, nose, throat, lung, and gastrointestinal tract."

According to Dr. Nasseri, “Purchase a water bottle at the airport to bring on the plane because your mucous membranes dry out in flight, especially in flights over two hours, because of the pressurized cabin. Your mucous membranes function much more efficiently and effectively when moist, and can better repel any viral or bacterial infection.”

Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent dehydration:

"To protect against unwanted intruders, frequent nasal saline lavages and a properly maintained humidifier will assist in preservation of a moisture mucus barrier... It’s essential to hydrate with electrolytes such as sea salt or an alkaline water to support the mineralocorticoids of the adrenal glands to control both physiological and psychological stress," Dr. Holsworth adds.

8. And, of course, wash your hands.

Sanitize anything you touched (such as your phone or tablet), and wash your face and hands with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds after the flight. If you cannot make it to a sink to do a proper wash with soap and warm water, sanitizing is a good back-up plan during a flight. 

As Dr. Nasseri advises, “You can also moisten or rinse your nose with a sterile saline spray to maintain a moist protective barrier. You should sanitize every 1-2 hours, as we tend to move around, grab items from our bag, touch items close to us that have gone through the airport."

RELATED: A Flight Attendant's Plea To All U.S. Airlines Still Operating Domestic Flights

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.