Understand how airplanes are built and why your chances of getting sick increase when flying.

Because of tightly packed cabins, as well as other reasons, airplanes can be a place where it’s easy to pass on the cold and flu. In fact, during the SARS outbreak in 2003, one flight from Hong Kong to Beijing reported a contagious passenger infecting as many as 20 other passengers. Some passengers as far as 7 rows from the contagious passenger were infected, as SARS is a viral illness spread through air droplets and contact, similarly to cough and cold.

Click the hot spots to learn some reasons why your chances of catching a cold or the flu are increased on your next flight.

Man and woman in an airplane


Seats have headrests containing hairs, fibers, and lingering germs that could be from a potentially sick passenger before you.


Although air ventilation systems refresh air every few minutes, passengers can cough germs into air that still makes its way around the cabin before being filtered out. While airlines have improved filtration systems, the risk of catching infectious germs still remains.


Table trays can potentially have been touched dozens of times by a previously sick passenger.  


Airplanes have more seats packed in than ever. *Passenger numbers have grown nearly 9% per year since 1960. Close quarters means an increased chance of catching germs from another passenger nearby.


The turnaround time for an airplane can sometimes be quick between flights. That means little time for a sufficiently sterilized cleaning.


The movement of passengers and crew members on a crowded, tightly packed flight can also play a role in transmission.



In addition to being constantly exposed to germs, air travel can also be tiring, and can weaken your immune system’s ability to ward off germs. Try to get a good night’s sleep before a flight and consider packing some basics like hand sanitizer, a pillow cover, and an extra layer of clothes in your carry-on.