Don't touch the tray, and other travel tips this holiday season

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published November 20, 2017

Key Takeaways

This Thanksgiving will mark the highest volume of Turkey Day travel in 12 years, with an estimated 51 million Americans expected to hit the roads, rails, and skyways this weekend, according to predictions from AAA

These days, those skies aren't so friendly, so there are many precautions to take when flying. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler and you’re aware of your “flight risks,” take a moment to review all these tips. Better to arrive for Thanksgiving more safe than sorry. 

Say nay to the tray: Guess which surface on the airplane is more laden with germs than the toilet flush button? If you said “the seatback tray table,” you’re right (and you’re probably a germaphobe—with good reason, in this case). According to a study by TravelMath that tested airplanes for numbers of bacteria colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch, the lavatory flush button was home to 265 CFU/sq inch compared with 2,155 CFU/sq inch on the food tray table. So, bring along an alcohol prep pad to disinfect—or just eat off your lap.

“Traveler’s thrombosis” is real: Although frequently hyped at this time of year, deep vein thrombosis (aka “economy-class syndrome” or “traveler’s thrombosis”) is a real danger to long-distance travelers. The risk of venous thromboembolism during long flights (more than 6 hours) may be as high as 1.2%. To prevent this risk, movement and exercise—either in the airplane seat or getting up and walking down the aisle—gets the blood moving. Compression stockings have a protective effect, although aspirin (as a blood thinner) does not. Because the air is very dry on planes, staying hydrated helps, too.

Don’t drink the water: Yes, staying hydrated is important. But the drinking water on airplanes—which is also used to make coffee and tea—may be less sanitary than the water found in the airport you just departed from. Data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency showed that 12% of commercial airplanes in the United States had at least one positive test for coliform bacteria in 2012. The presence of coliform suggests that other harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, may also be in the drinking water. Another study of international aircraft found nearly no coliform, but did report a wide range of bacterial isolates, including many that are potentially pathogenic. In short, you’re better off bringing bottled water on board. And you may want to skip the coffee anyhow, as it only increases dehydration.

Leave your shoes on: You do a lot of walking when you’re traveling, so it can be a relief to slip off your loafers or high heels when you settle into your airplane seat. But you might want to rethink that idea. Don’t forget you just took off your shoes to go through security, and you followed in every other passenger’s stinky footsteps. Even worse, the airplane carpet doesn’t get cleaned as often as you might think, so it’s rife with germs and dirt, according to flight attendants. If you want to feel comfy, bring a pair of slippers for the plane ride.

If you booze, you lose: If you want to get the most bang for your booze, then drinking on an airplane is a good way to do it—because the altitude heightens the effect of alcohol, right? Nope. That myth was debunked decades ago. You’ll get just as tipsy at sea level as you will at cruising altitude. The real reason to avoid alcohol in the air is that familiar foe of flight—dehydration. Alcohol, like cola and coffee, is a diuretic. Still, if you want that glass of wine or whiskey to settle your jangled nerves, drink as much water (from your water bottle!) as you drink in alcohol.

Safe—and healthy—travels!

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