There are plenty of challenges to flying today–from finding a seat on an overbooked plane to weathering the storms of delayed flights and missed connections. Here’s one more: Figuring out how to stay healthy in the germ factories known as airplanes. With hundreds of people passing through on a daily basis, ever shorter turnaround times on the ground (who could possibly clean 250 tray tables in 10 minutes?) and people who are, let’s face it, slobs, the germs on an airplane are multiplying even as you fasten your seat belt low and tight across your lap. Here are the places on a plane and in the airport where germs are most likely lying in wait, ready to attack and leave you coughing, sneezing and complaining during your family vacation.

Keeping Kids Healthy avoiding germs on an Airplane

Photo Credit: Leslie Harvey

Germs on an Airplane and In the Airport

Sanitizing baby wipes are a staple of my carry-on backpack. I don’t travel with a baby, but I wouldn’t think of leaving home without those wipes! Flying twice or more each month has taught them that there are germs lurking everywhere in an airplane cabin. The least I can do is wipe down every square inch of the tray table, the seat belt buckle and the arm rests with santizing wipes.

But with the common cold virusesinfluenza viruses, e. coli, and who knows what other infectious diseases waiting to attack your immune system, you’ll want to protect yourself from germs on an airplane with these four tips.

Read on to the end to the learn the dirtiest places in an airport as well. And plan to travel with your own clean refillable water bottle.

1. Don’t Touch Anything

It may be a challenge to fasten your seatbelt while seated without actually touching that metal belt bucket with the fingerprints and germs left behind by, well, everyone else who ever sat in that seat. Because it is guaranteed that no one gets around to cleaning those when there are so many used Kleenexes to pick out of the seatback pocket!

Still, you can avoid touching some of the other germy spots on the plane. Leave those airline magazines right the is the seat pocket. Why? Because you know that the last person who read them licked their finger before turning the page to add traction on that glossy paper. That’s a mental picture you don’t need, right?

And, while you’re standing in the aisle waiting for the lav despite the flight attendant‘s plea over the intercom telling you, “The pilot has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. Please return to your seat.” Notice that the guy who just walked out of that tiny bathroom didn’t bother to wash his hands or put the toilet seat back down. Just pull one of those tiny paper towels out of the dispenser and use it to protect your hands when you touch the door lock, put down the seat, do your thing and push the lavatory flush button.

Keeping kids healthy by avoid germs on an airplane

Photo credit: Meagan Wristen

2. Don’t Breathe

OK, that might be difficult if the flight lasts more than two minutes. At least do what you can to avoid breathing in cabin air filled with other people’s germs. On my last flight, the guy who plopped in the middle seat immediately started to cough and sniffle. I debatied whether to offer him a Kleenex in the hope he would blow out whatever it was that he kept sucking up his nose (and NOT store the used tissue in the seatback pocket). Instead, I reached up from my aisle seat and turned the air vent on full blast… pointed in his direction. I figured I couldn’t escape all of the germs, but at least I could blow the worst of them away from me and, I suppose, toward the poor sap sitting in the window seat. I’ve considered traveling with a face mask. But so far my dignity has won over my desire to stay healthy.

3. Don’t Eat

I always see moms of little ones open the tray table, spread the Cheerios and let the kids have at it. I do my best not to wretch. Flight attendants will tell you that people do everything from smear buggers to change baby diapers on those tray tables. They’re a breeding ground for germs. And that mom is encouraging her toddler to eat off of it. Bring out the sanitary wipes first. Please.

4. Don’t Use Your Fingers

Everyone else has used their index finger to choose the entertainment on that touch screen, turn up the volume on the arm rest control panel, push the button on the elevator panel, you name it. Yes, that’s the same index finger they licked to turn the page on the in-flight magazines. So don’t use your finger. Use your first knuckle to push those buttons. Then be careful you don’t use that same knuckle to rub your itchy eye, at least until after you get out the alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Germs in the Airport

When the folks from swabbed surfaces at three major airports, they found lots of “ewww.” The highest number of viable bacteria and fungal cells per square inch, or colony-forming units (CFU) were found just where you would expect them to be: on the self-serve check-in kiosks.

But they also found plenty of germs on bench armrests and drinking fountain buttons. Thankfully many airports have installed to automatic water fillers for refilling our refillable water bottles. No touching required.