Germs on a plane: Defend against travel-related illness

By Julie Jordan
Published September 7, 2018

What do airport security bins and passengers tightly-packed on planes have in common? They can both make you sick. 

This week’s news announced a study showing the most dirty items you can touch at the airport are security bins. According to the research, half of plastic airport security bins may carry viruses that cause respiratory infections. Later, there were reports of passengers arriving from Dubai that had to be quarantined at JFK Airport with flu-like symptoms. Some were even admitted to the hospital.

After such news, it can seem like flying may not be worth the risk. But with preparation, there are ways to keep your good health as you rush through airport security and cram yourself onto a crowded plane.  

Tips for flying germ-free

  • Wash your hands. The same common-sense principles for handwashing in your everyday life also apply while you are at the airport. After touching items touched by many others, like the airport security bins, wash your hands.    
  • Be aware of the health conditions at your destination. The passengers coming back from Dubai spent time in the city of Mecca. Currently, there is an outbreak of the flu in this city. It is possible that one or more persons contracted the virus and then spread it during the 14-hour flight. If flying internationally, know the health alerts for your destination using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Get your flu shot each year to prevent catching the virus. While the strain of virus experienced by the Dubai passengers may have been different, the single most effective way to prevent the flu is still the flu vaccine. The CDC has a “Flu Vaccine Finder” at Enter your zip code, and get your flu shot now to prevent getting ill later.
  • View CDC’s outbreaks list for special domestic travel health advisories.

General knowledge about how to stay healthy when traveling will also help protect you against germs and viruses acquired at airports and on planes. Review the tips below to make sure your next travel experience, flying or not, is a healthy one.

Domestic travel considerations

  • Pollen and other allergies 
  • High altitudes 
  • Insects
  • Weather
  • Health conditions:
    • Get a physical exam
    • Pack your prescriptions
  • Bring your health insurance information
  • Remember food and fireworks safety  

International travel considerations




  • You may not experience symptoms of travel-related illnesses until after returning home. If you do experience symptoms, you may wish to visit your healthcare provider.