Want to avoid the flu while flying? Try a window seat Many people worry about catching cold or flu germs on airplanes. Researchers tried to find out the risk of catching respiratory germs and where on the plane the risk is greatest. (Dylan Agbagni/Ekaterina Vladinakova/Flickr)
Want to avoid the flu while flying? Try a window seat

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Worried about catching a cold or the flu on an airplane? Get a window seat. And don't leave it until the flight is over.

That's what some experts have been saying for years. And it's perhaps the best advice coming out of a new attempt to determine the risks of catching germs on an airplane.

It turns out there's been little research on the risks of catching a cold or flu during air travel. Some experts believed that sitting in a window seat would keep a passenger away from infectious people. They may be on the aisle or moving around.

The new study, published March 19, came to the same conclusion.

For somebody who doesn't want to get sick, "get in that window seat and don't move." That's according to the study's lead researcher, Vicki Stover Hertzberg. She works at Emory University in Atlanta.

The study was ambitious. Squads of researchers jetted around the U.S. to test cabin surfaces and air. They tested them for viruses. They observed how people came into contact with each other.

But it also had shortcomings. In a total of 10 flights, they observed only one person coughing. The experiment was done during a flu season five years ago. But they didn't find even one of 18 cold and flu viruses they tested for.

In a weird way, it's possible that the researchers were unlucky. That's because they were on planes that happened to not have sick people on them, Hertzberg said.

The new study was initiated and funded by Boeing Co. The Chicago-based jet manufacturer also recruited one of the researchers. That was Georgia Tech's Howard Weiss. It also had input in the writing of the results. "But there was no particular pressure to change stuff or orient it one way or the other," Hertzberg said.

The article was released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers did some mathematical modeling and computer simulations. These determined how likely people were to come close to a hypothetical infectious passenger. This hypothetical passenger was sitting in an aisle seat on the 14th row of a single-aisle airplane. They concluded that on average, only one person on a flight of about 150 passengers would be infected.

Researchers who were not involved said it would be difficult to use the relatively small study to make any general conclusions about the risks of an airline passenger getting a cold or flu. 

But it's a novel study about a subject that hasn't been well researched, they said. Studies have looked at how respiratory viruses spread in labs and in homes. But "this is the first time I've seen it done for airplanes," said Seema Lakdawala. She is a University of Pittsburgh biologist. She studies how flu spreads.

She and others not involved in the research were intrigued by the study's findings about how people moved about the cabin and came in contact with each other.

It found:

About 38 percent of passengers never left their seat and 38 percent left once. Thirteen percent left twice and 11 percent left more than twice.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the people getting up had an aisle seat. About 80 percent of people sitting on the aisle moved at least once during their flights. This is compared with 62 percent in middle seats and 43 percent in window seats.

The 11 people sitting closest to a person with a cold or flu are at the highest risk. That included two people sitting to their left and the two to their right. It included the people in the row immediately in front of them and those in the row behind.

A lot of frequent fliers will be interested in the study's results. That's according to  Edward Pizzarello. He is an investor in a Washington-area venture-capital firm who also writes a travel blog.

"It's absolutely a fear I hear from people all the time. They just believe that they're going to get sick from going on an airplane, or they got sick from being on an airplane," he said.

Pizzarello said he's an aisle person, because he doesn't want to feel trapped in the window seat if he needs to get up.

Will he now go for the window?

Maybe, he said, if a sick person sits next to him.

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How does a view prevent the flu?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • John-E2
    4/11/2018 - 11:57 a.m.

    did you know that if you sit in the window seat you won't have worry about getting sick on a plane because you won't be closer to people than the other seat.

  • MariaGraciaC-ilc
    4/11/2018 - 05:46 p.m.

    This article was interesting because it is important to let people know how to avoid infections during their flights. People should take into account this research and they should protect especially their kids. Kids are vulnerable to viruses and they can easily get sick. If people want to enjoy their trip, they must choose a window sit.

  • DanielaJ-ilc
    4/11/2018 - 06:31 p.m.

    Prevent the flu is difficult because is a common disease, but people who often travel can avoid taking vitamin C few days before the trip. Also, they can try picking out a window seat, covering their mouths, and drinking hot lemonade with ginger as a natural medicine.

  • JanethS-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 12:05 a.m.

    Windows seats prevent the flu because people on those seats get up less than other passengers. This keeps passengers away from sick people if they stay there and avoid moving.

  • JuanFranR-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 08:07 a.m.

    Really interesting topic. I think that the 11% of people that stands more than two times might be kids. Also I believe that to minimize the chance to getting flu, the passanger who sits in the window also needs to keep their hands out of the reach of almost everything.

  • ChristianT-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 08:17 a.m.

    It is the seat with the lowest probability of being sourrounded by viruses according to the reading.

  • Sophia-E2
    4/12/2018 - 10:20 a.m.

    Do you hate getting the flu on the plane? Well sit next to the window seat. People think that it is better to sit on next to the window because if you sit in the aisle you are more exposed to other people moving around if you are in the middle you are exposed to people on either side of you.

    I think that this makes sense. But if the flight attendants don't clean the window seat after a sick person sat there than there is really no point. Lets hope that they clean the seats. But the dirtiest spot on a plan is tray table.

  • DianaC-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 03:12 p.m.

    This virus is difficult to prevent in any place. When a person travels on an airplane the airline has to detect if a person is sick. If a person is sick the airline must contact a doctor to identify what illness is. If the illness is serious the person can not travel. Also, people can prevent flu on airplanes if they use alcohol in their hands and take vitamin c to reinforce their defenses.

  • AnitaC-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 03:23 p.m.

    There are many ways to avoid the flu, but they are not always effective. You can try to wash your hands, do exercise, take vitamin frequently. Another good advice is that you should also take the seat to the window to avoid contact with a sick passenger.

  • MabeV-ilc
    4/12/2018 - 04:59 p.m.

    When people are sitting in a window seat they are less exposed to germs. According to the article, the germs can be spread it in all directions. Therefore, window seat reduce the percentage of contamination because the passengers will be have less contact or neighbors than other passengers.

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