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

feet
Solutions for 19 types.
highlighted areas of the brain
How well do you know yours?
oatmeal and eggs
The best and worst for you.
dog begging at table
Foods your dog should never eat.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
mature woman with serious expression
What do you know?
chlamydia
Pictures and facts.
Healthy Snack
13 delicious options.
Take your medication
Separate fact from fiction.
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
young woman in sun
What to watch for.
woman clutching at stomach
Do you know what's causing yours?

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.