Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Information and Resources

Font Size

Will Airplane Air Make Me Sick?

No, says our expert. But proximity to the other passengers very well might.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including some of the oldest and most cherished medical myths out there. For our May 2011 issue, we asked David Freedman, MD, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a board member of the International Society of Travel Medicine, about the widespread belief that airplane air has lots of germs.

Q: Is it a myth that airplane air can make people sick?

A: Lots of people believe this, but it's actually FALSE.

Here's why: Airplane cabins come equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that are as good "as those found in isolation units in hospitals," Freedman says. "And viruses and bacteria are big enough that they are trapped in those filters."

The health risk with airplane travel, Freedman says, "isn't the recirculated air. It's the people sitting next to you." That's because when people cough and sneeze, the droplets can travel 3 to 6 feet in any direction.

What to do? Try to move your seat if you discover that someone sitting near you is sick. Of course, all those germ-laden droplets also land on trays, window shades, seats, and surfaces in the bathroom. So be double sure to wash your hands, "especially before you eat," Freedman advises. "Bacteria and viruses can live for hours -- and in some cases, days -- on inanimate objects."

Reviewed on May 06, 2011

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Can you catch one?
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
woman using breath spray
What's causing yours?
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
woman doing pushups
To help you get fit.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
mosquito
Stings, bites, burns, and more.
Allentown, PA
Are you living in one?
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.