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Choosing Your Plane Seat Wisely CAN Prevent Sickness, Latest Study Says

With the flu season in full swing, most people are concerned that the quickly-spreading sickness can get in the way of travelling – especially when traveling in an airplane packed with passengers.

But a new study is saying that catching a sickness on a plane can be avoided easily by choosing the right seat. Your chances of getting the flu depend a lot on how close you sit to the bathroom, who you’re seated next to, and what you touch during your journey.

Can You Get Sick on a Plane Easily?

Most of us dread getting sick but viral infections like the flu can be easily transmitted from one person to another through water droplets that are expelled whenever they talk, sneeze or cough. However, inside a plane, these disease-carrying droplets don’t travel more than 6 feet and don’t remain suspended in the currents of air that circulate the plane’s cabin section – but these viruses can be picked up in many other ways like touching something that was previously touched by an infected individual.

Curious to see how flu virus can spread thousands of feet up in the air, a team of researchers decided to board five different planes from Atlanta to various cities in the West Cost during the flu season. Each plane was boarded by 14 researchers who were tasked with observing the behavior of passengers and crew. In total, the research team recorded the movements of 1581 crew members and passengers but only one passenger was noticed coughing on one of the flights.

People Seated Close to the Aisle More Vulnerable

The researchers chose single-aisle Boeing 757 planes for the study and were seated in the busy economy section for their journeys which lasted between 3 and 5 hours. According to the findings published in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, almost 40 per cent of the passengers in the economy class never got up from their seats whereas 38 per cent left only once to make a trip to the toilet.

Researchers say that passengers at the window seats are at the least risk of catching a viral infection

Researchers noticed that those who were seated close to the aisle were the ones to leave their seats more frequently to either go to the toilet or reach for something in the overhead cabin. Whereas people in the middle and window seats were far less likely to get up from their places.

The Boeing 757s typically have a restroom in the front of the economy class and two in the back. It may seem odd but most of the passengers in the economy class of the planes weren’t seen using the restrooms even once. Those who did need to get up for the lavatory had to wait for an average of 3.1 minutes if they went in the front but only 1.7 minutes if they chose one of the two restrooms in the back.

Window Seats May be the Best Choice

What the researchers also noticed was that most passengers in a fully-booked economy class came into close contact with seat occupants next to them as well as the flight attendants who served them meals. But the amount of physical contact that was made with other travelers on the plane depended on their seat location.

Those at the window seat were the farthest from the crew members and other passengers walking up and down the aisle, thus made only 12 contacts throughout the flight. Passengers seated in the middle made 58 contacts whereas those closest to the aisle had the highest exposure to other travelers with 64 contacts. Moreover, people who sat in the front or the back interacted less with others around them than those who were seated in the middle.

After collecting the data, researchers designed 1,000 simulated flights with two different scenarios: an infected flight attendant walking up to passengers to serve food and a sick passenger occupying the seat closest to the aisle in the middle of the plane.

Simply turning on the overhead vent on your plane seat can significantly reduce your risk of getting sick

Spreading Flu on a Plane May Not Be that Easy

The passenger occupying the aisle seat was likely to infect others sitting in his one-meter radius but the occupant of the window seat in the same row is still at a low risk of catching the infection. Researchers say that as long as you aren’t in the one-meter radius of an infected person and use good hand sanitization at all times, it is highly unlikely that you’ll catch a viral infection. Other researchers suggested wearing a mask on the plane to reduce the risk of getting sick.

In the scenario where a crew member was sick, the chances of catching an infection were even lower. The overall remarks from the researchers after the flight inspection were than airplanes tend to maintain a pretty clean environment so the likelihood of getting sick while traveling are extremely low if you’re careful about your seat choice and hygiene.

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