It seems to happen every year – you’ve finally managed to relax ahead of a well-earned holiday, but as soon as you get off the plane you can feel yourself coming down with a cold.
What did you do wrong? Did you selflessly work too hard in the days and weeks before the trip to make it easier for your colleagues to cover for you? Did you overdo it with that big night out the weekend before you flew out? Is it all psychological? Is your body being a dickhead and sabotaging itself? Is it karma for trying to make sure your luggage will come out first at the other end?
Well, it might be even simpler than that – it might just be down to your behaviour on the plane itself.
But don’t worry, there are measures you can take to lessen the chances of falling ill next time.
A study entitled ‘Behaviors, movements, and transmission of droplet-mediated respiratory diseases during transcontinental airline flights’ looked at factors in passengers on transatlantic flights contracting illnesses and diseases - and the results were released this month.
Looking at flights lasting between 211 and 313 minutes, it looked at factors such as how frequently passengers left their seats, how frequently they used the toilet during the flight, and which passengers and crew they had contact with, among other factors.
It broke down passengers by seating position (aisle, middle or window) and found that those in window seats were more likely to have contact with a smaller number of people - so these are the spots to grab.
Wired spoke to microbiologist Charles Gerba to find out more about the findings, and to offer tips on how best to avoid infection on flights of this length.
Gerba also noted that those in aisle seats seem to be at greater risk, with Wired’s article noting that disease can be transmitted by people passing through aisles, including those who might steady themselves on arm-rests.
As for toilets, he notes “Your typical flight will have one for every 50 people. Sometimes it’s more like one per 75” – it seems pretty easy to extrapolate the problems this might cause.
Those in aisle seats were also more likely to get up than those sat by the window, with visits to the toilet providing another opportunity to have germs passed on to them.
So, put simply, if you want to give yourself the best chance of staying healthy your best bet is twofold: book a window seat, and don’t get up at all unless it is absolutely necessary. Or just try to get an entire row to yourself.