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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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How does a view prevent the flu?
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COMMENTS (43)
  • brycew-orv
    5/07/2018 - 07:38 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.

  • calebr-orv
    5/20/2018 - 09:56 p.m.

    It prevents a flu because they are away from people that have a cold or flu so they won't catch the flu or cold or you could just make a little mask so you catch the flu or cold.

  • Westleyh-eic
    8/27/2018 - 11:29 a.m.

    I have never been on an airplane before that is very interesting that you can have a higher chance of not getting sick sitting by a window

  • Naomis-eic
    8/27/2018 - 03:09 p.m.

    Now I'm really glad I usually take the window seat!

  • Meradithw-eic
    9/14/2018 - 10:41 a.m.

    Because they don't have to get up as often so they arn't as close to people.

  • Ellem-eic
    9/14/2018 - 11:21 a.m.

    This is crazy! I can't believe that this can prevent sickness! It's so weird because I always choose to have the window seat! Looks like i'll be sticking to that spot!

  • Zoeyc-eic
    9/14/2018 - 11:21 a.m.

    Good to know but I do not really like planes i almost crashed on and we go on one this year don't really want to go.

  • Krewk-eic
    9/14/2018 - 01:21 p.m.

    That was a very interesting article. I had never thought about that before

  • Ethang-eic
    10/04/2018 - 12:50 p.m.

    i didn't think you would be able to avoid getting the flue like that on a plane that's pretty neat

  • Laurynm-eic
    10/22/2018 - 11:31 a.m.

    I have experienced flying before and my mother has gotten sick because of the flu, so she tried a window seat.

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