With an aeroplane’s enclosed space, recycled air and spluttering passengers, many people complain of feeling under the weather after a flight.
Planes may not be crawling with bacteria and viruses as much as people think, with air filters keeping out many pathogens.
However, the pressure of transporting thousands of passengers a day can leave cabin crew unable to clean, resulting in tray tables that are ‘more germ ridden than toilets’.
While supermodel Naomi Campbell may rely on masks, wipes and seat covers to keep her fighting fit in flight, medics are conflicted as to whether such extreme measures are over the top or just common sense.
Passengers use tray tables for everything from eating and reading to even resting their heads on while they try and catch some shut eye.
This makes these fold-down plastic trays one of the most germ-ridden places on an aeroplane, Dr Abinash Virk, an infectious-disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, told Frommer’s.
And Katherine Harmon, director of health intelligence at the risk-management company iJet, told Yahoo busy cabin crew may just pick up rubbish, without disinfecting surfaces.
Dr Nicholas Testa, chief physician executive at the southwest division of CommonSpirit Health, agreed.
He told ABC News: ‘The flu virus will live on a hard surface for about 24 hours.
‘[Cabin crew] don’t have time to wipe every single tray station.
‘Intrinsically, the bathroom is cleaner’.
Dr Virk recommends passengers run an alcohol-based wipe over the trays to kill any lingering germs.
However, Dr Frank Contacessa, an internist at Westchester Health, New York, urges us to take it one step further and avoid using tray tables altogether.
He told The Points Guy: ‘Don’t use the tray table and if you really have to, make sure you carry sanitary wipes with you and clean it before you use it.’
Germaphobes could wipe down every surface or even wear disposable gloves à la Naomi.
However, Dr Virk insists simply washing your hands with soap and water, or using a sanitiser, will be sufficient to keep you germ-free while in flight.
Dr Testa agreed, saying: ‘Keep your hands clean.
‘This means a combination of good hand hygiene with either soap or water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.’
Naomi’s mask may seem over-the-top, however, one medic called it a ‘good idea’.
Dr Nathan Favini, medical lead at the healthcare start-up Forward, said: ‘Respiratory viruses are the most common cause of illness while traveling and are transmitted through the air.
‘It’s a good idea to carry a mask to protect yourself if you sit near someone who has symptoms of a respiratory infection.’
However, some studies suggest masks are only effective if worn by an infected person, rather than as a preventative measure by healthy passengers.
Dr Aaron Smith, a transitional medicine resident at Harbor UCLA, told Clinical Correlations: ‘A typical commercial aircraft recirculates 50 per cent of the air delivered to passengers.
‘And this air passes through a high efficiency particle air filter (HEPA) before re-entering the cabin.
‘These filters effectively remove dust, vapors, bacteria, fungi and the droplets via which most viruses are spread.’
Dr Smith argued the air on a plane is filtered more than in other enclosed spaces, like an office.
He added anxiety over flying in general may prompt people to become more panicked about infections while in the air.
While countless infected passengers may have sat in your seat before you, Dr Virk stresses the risk of catching something from your chair is low.
This is because your clothes act as a barrier between you and the cushion.
And don’t worry about the arm rests either.
‘Unless you have a skin break, you’re not going to pick up anything from here,’ Dr Virk said.
The medic admits, however, he does not put his hand all the way in the seat-back pocket in front of him.
‘This isn’t based on a study but I don’t know what’s down there,’ he said.