How to Stay Healthy when Traveling by Plane

Flying can be taxing on the body. Even the most healthy people can become ill during or following a flight. Although it isn't likely someone will avoid flying with a "little bug" you can take steps to make sure you don't feel worse. Keep reading for simple tips to increase your chances of staying healthy when traveling by air.


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    Consult your physician if you suffer from a chronic illness especially if you've been feeling worse or have had increased symptoms before your trip.
    • It may be inadvisable to fly and you should take the doctor's advice seriously. Find alternate means of travel.
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    Try to be healthy before getting on a plane. Flying can exacerbate whatever illnesses you already have. Between the dry air, tiring situations and stress your little cold can become worse and perhaps even develop into a more serious respiratory illness.
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    Tackle any symptoms as soon as they develop prior to your trip.
    • Consider taking a day off to rest as soon as you feel something coming on. People tend to be very busy before leaving for vacation or a business trip. Don't dismiss taking a sick day if you need it.
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    • Place a call to your doctor or get a prescription called in if possible.
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    Take the appropriate vitamins and/or try one of the Airborne or similar products with vitamins and immunity supporting ingredients. Drinking green tea may also help curb illness.
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    Stay away from sick people who may be contagious. It may take several days to show symptoms so try to avoid sick people a few weeks before your trip.
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    Stay hydrated. Commercial airplanes have very low humidity. (Lower than the Sahara desert.) This can lead to you becoming dehydrated. Drink plenty of water the days before your flight as well as during and following your flight.
    • Dehydration can cause you to become run down and make it easier to pick up viruses.
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    Avoid alcohol the day before you fly and while you are flying. It can dehydrate you and leave you feeling drained.
    • Alcohol affects you differently at different altitudes.
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    Pack any vital prescription medications in your carry-on bag. Make sure you carry accurate instructions. A late connector or lost bag could leave you without important medications.
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    Bring munchies. Pack light snacks in your bag or pick up something from the airport.
    • Don't fly hungry. Some airlines have eliminated in flight snack service. Any delay can leave you unable to grab a meal in a connector airport. Have a little something to eat in your carry on.
    • If you have any restrictions in your diet you should definitely pack something from home. This includes low sodium, low fat, low cholesterol, etc.
    • Vegetarian and organic eaters should also pack food for the flight. Pickings will be slim in the airport and you don't want to live off of weird sides and a snack you'd really not prefer.
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    • Eating will keep your energy up, your blood sugar normalized and you won't be fighting a growling stomach to sleep.
    • Eating weird food on the run can cause you to feel bad.
    • Long flights often offer food service but special need meals (low fat, low sodium, vegan, kosher, vegetarian, etc.) will need to be requested several days in advance.
    • Contact the airline and confirm what meal options are available.
    • If you have a special diet you should request the special meal.
    • Call the day before and confirm they have your special meal request. By calling the day before they can still make arrangements if your request was "lost".
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    • Eating outside your regular diet can cause stomach upset or leave you feeling awful.
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    Prepare for the worst and pack what you might need. Don't assume the airline will have something if you forget. Take Tylenol, Advil, Pepto Bismol, etc. Think of worst-case scenario and not just how you feel while packing.
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    Contact your physician especially if you are exposed to anything communicable. This includes chicken pox, measles, etc. Not only could it be dangerous for you to fly buy you may be a carrier until symptoms begin to show. You could cause many people to become ill.
    • The recycled air makes illnesses easier to spread.
    • Don't assume. Ask your doctor. They may even be able to test for exposure.
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    Think about getting the travel insurance offered especially if you have a chronic illness that could flare up and require a change in travel plans.
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    Avoid flying if you've recently broken a limb and have a recent cast. The limb expands with flight and you can cause the circulation to be cut off causing permanent damage. Talk to your doctor if you fly often and have them leave extra room in your cast or use a different casting if you will be traveling soon.
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    Stretch when ever possible especially on long flights. Try to get up every hour or so. Even if you must just walk to the restroom and back you should. Also stretching your legs in your seat will help when you aren't allowed to the restroom.
    • The lack of blood flow to the lower limbs can cause a blood clot to form with the coagulating blood. It can cause pain or in some cases can lead to death.
    • Notify the flight crew if you are having pain or swelling in your extremities, any shortness of breath or any other strange symptoms with a sudden onset.
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    Wear a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace when you are flying. In case of emergency the other passengers, airport staff or flight crew can have details of any illnesses you have.
    • If you don't have one you should contact your local pharmacy or your doctor to get one. You may also be able to have it covered by insurance but they are usually inexpensive.
    • Some pharmacies have some pre-printed with common health problems (drug allergies, asthma, diabetes, cardiac problems, COPD/Emphysema, blood thinners, etc.)
    • Ask your pharmacist about what is available. Check a different pharmacy if your local one doesn't have it or look online.
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    Carry emergency contact numbers with you. If possible, include a number for your travel town as well as your hometown.
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    Avoid traveling alone if you have health problems.
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    Wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for walking long distances.
    • Slipping and falling in airports is also quite common.
    • Consider weather conditions where you are traveling. It may be advisable to pack shoes for walking in snow and rain.
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    Check your luggage at the counter if it's heavy. Many people like to avoid checking luggage so they over pack smaller bags and they become too heavy. Injuries can occur from trying to negotiate a heavy bag. You could injure your back, shoulders, arms, chest muscles, etc. Just check the bag and let the professionals take care of it. If your concern is something getting broken you should consider packing it in a shipping box or mailing it.
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    Avoid multiple carry-on bags. Try to only carry what is needed. Pack your carry-on to be lightweight and as few pieces as possible. Loading and carrying heavy carry-on bags can also cause muscle injury.
    • You aren't going to read 3 novels on a short flight.
    • Don't let your over-stuffed luggage spill over into your carry-on leaving you with a super heavy carry on. You may just need a bigger suitcase to pack what you need any leave your carry-on for just what is needed for flight.
    • You may need to lift it over heads to store in an overhead container.
    • Not all seats have under seat storage (emergency rows).
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    Avoid using airline furnished pillows and blankets. They are often used multiple times and are loaded with germs and bacteria. (If you must find one that is still packaged in the safety wrap).
    • If you travel often or need to sleep on a flight you should pick up your own pillow at a kiosk or travel store.
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    Dress appropriately for flying. Even traveling in the summer time the temperatures can vary wildly on board (+/- 20 degrees at times). Dress in layers and bring a light jacket or sweatshirt. Longer pants are also a better idea. You don't want to resort to using the loaner blankets and pillows. Sudden temperate changes and being too hot or cold can make you feel uncomfortable and increase your stress levels.
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    Wipe down your arm rests, tray and any hard surfaces with an antibacterial wet wipe, also wipe your hands when you're done. You don't know who sat there before you and if they were sick with the flu or a cold.
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    Remember to wash your hands often especially before eating. You can avoid picking up too many extra germs or bugs.
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    Check with the airline if you use daily oxygen.
    • Some allow specific brands or models of oxygen concentrators. Others will not allow you to bring your own and require you to rent one from the airline for a fee.
    • Always call first to verify your equipment is allowed and establish if you must rent alternate equipment from the airline or make additional arrangements at lay over airports. Call several days in advance and 48 hours prior to verify your rental.
    • Different airlines have different policies for oxygen use so do your research.
    • Get a note from your doctor stating it is safe for you to travel.
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    • Don't forget to call the individual airport if you will need oxygen during a layover. Don't assume the airline will communicate your needs with them. Even if they say they will, call and confirm.
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    Consider notifying the airport when you arrive if you or a travel companion will need a wheelchair or motorized assistance making it through the airport or to your gate. Don't risk falling.
    • Don't abuse this service and use it if you aren't medically impaired. Others in greater need may require it.


  • Add anti-bacterial wet wipes to your pre-travel shopping list.
  • Wipe down your suitcase and carry on handles after you've arrived at your destination. (Use the wet wipes.) You can't be sure who handled items and you may also be responsible to transferring germs to the handles.
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Take a bottle and sip on it while you are flying too. Never board a plane without a beverage to rehydrate. Fitness drinks will also work for those who don't want water but water is best.
  • Airplanes are loaded with germs. Think of the surfaces being as clean as a public restroom. Although airlines take great steps to clean planes you just never know how much time they had between flights or who was there before you.
  • Notify the flight staff if you've been seated next to someone coughing and hacking. They may have another seat where you can sit. Be agreeable and understand, they don't have to move you. Even though the seat may be less desirable (middle seat, etc.) it's much better than sitting next to a petri dish for a flight. If the person is too sick to fly you should tell the staff. Never be rude to the other passenger.
  • Use common sense when flying. Don't travel when you're very sick. You'll only feel worse after the flight.
  • Don't get so involved with your trip you forget to take care of yourself. Think of your health before the trip, during it and afterwards.
  • Wash your hands often when traveling. This includes before and after getting on the plane, and as soon as you complete your time in the airport. Since liquids can't travel on most airlines you can take a pack of anti-bacterial wet wipes.
  • Wear shoes that can loosen should your feet swell during your trip.
  • After traveling and before putting your suitcase away you should try to spray the exterior with an anti-bacterial spray. (Only use this if the exterior will tolerate the spray without staining or damaging it.) Lysol will work on durable exteriors. You can also wipe it down and allow to air dry.
  • Schedule time to rest after your flight.
  • Take time to pack any medications you may need. Flying often irritates sinuses and you may need a sinus pill to eliminate severe pressure in your head and ears while flying. Remember rules on traveling with liquids before you pack cough syrup. Ask the airline first.
  • Make a note in your calendar to take vitamin C or Airborne every day the week or two prior to your trip. If you're already taking a multi-vitamin check the dosages before adding anything. You don't want to take too much.
  • Avoid consuming unnecessary amounts of sodium around the time you will be traveling. It can dehydrate you and also make swelling more problematic.
  • Remember there are restrictions about substances allowed through airport security. Check with the airline. You'll likely be asked to dispose of any foods such as soup, drinks, yogurt, etc. when going through security.


  • Anti-histamines and decongestants can add to the dehydration you experience with air travel. Make sure you increase your water intake if you are taking these medications.
  • A pilot will make the decision if the flight should be detoured, delayed or re-routed in the event of an emergency. It is not the decision of physicians, flight attendants, passengers, etc.
  • No list can substitute common sense and advice from your physician.
  • Ask the airline before booking if you are on supplemental oxygen. Verify if you will need a note from your doctor stating you are well enough to travel. (It may be best to get one in case you find a door agent concerned for your travel and needs.)
  • People with pedal edema may find flying extremely uncomfortable and dangerous. Talk to your physician before flying if you have congestive heart failure.
  • Airlines won't call your physician when you travel so don't assume they will. Most airlines have a hotline they can call if the staff feels your problem is an emergency.

Things You'll Need

  • Bottled water or other hydrating beverage
  • Medications: prescription, Tylenol, Advil, Pepto Bismol caplets, or other medications for needs while traveling
  • Travel size foil pack of anti-bacterial wet wipes or handy wipes.
  • Lysol spray
  • Snacks appropriate for packing in a carry on
  • Physicians approval to travel when your health is compromised
  • Medic-alert bracelet or necklace (available online, prices start around $10 US)
  • Vitamins or immunity strengthening supplements
  • Contact numbers for emergencies when traveling

Article Info

Categories: Health Hygiene | Travel Health