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 are multiplying even as you fasten your seat belt low and tight across your lap. Here are the places on a plane where germs are most likely lying in wait, ready to attack and leave you coughing, sneezing and complaining during your family vacation.

1. Don’t Touch Anything

Keeping Kids Healthy on an Airplane

Photo Credit: Leslie Harvey

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 where they are. Don’t be the next person to pull them out and turn the page, licking your finger first 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 flush button.

Keeping kids healthy on an airplane how to avoid germs2. 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 other people’s germs. On my last flight, the guy who plopped in the middle seat immediately started coughing and sniffling. While debating 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), I reached up 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.

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. 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 hand sanitizer.

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