Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flying with kids: staying healthy on board

According to a new study, people who travel on an airplane could be as much as 100 times more likely to catch a cold than if they had not traveled by plane. This does not surprise me. I don't know how many times someone in my family has gotten sick after a flight, especially when we've gone on the long flights to Europe. Both colds and stomach bugs seem to just love getting into your system on board.

The worst one was when my son was just a few years old and was sick for about a week after we arrived in Sweden from Canada, throwing up, fever, the works. Of course, kids and adults can get sick anytime, but it really sucks to get knocked out like that when you're supposed to be enjoying your holiday.

So what to do? My best tip for anyone, whether they're traveling with kids or without, is this:
Germ-X Antibacterial Hand Sanitizing Wipes - Premium Brand with Moisturizing Vitamin E - 100 Individually Wrapped Travel Packets - Large 6" by 8" Cloths - Anti-Bacterial Hand Towels - Dispenser BoxWet Ones Antibacterial Moist Towelette, Cloth, 5-3/4 x 7-1/2, White, 40 Wipes per DispenserBath and Body Works Unscented Antibacterial Pocketbac Hand Gel, 1 oz.
Bring lots and lots of antibacterial gel, or wipes and use them liberally and often. Let's face it: airplanes are germ heavens. Lots of soft surfaces, lots of people in cramped quarters, tiny bathrooms, taps that you can barely get water from to wash your hands, spills, coughs, sneezing... all of it inside an enclosed space where the air (and all its germs) is re-circulated again and again.

My tub of germ-killer wipes.
While adults might be able to keep themselves from touching dirty, wet things in the tiny airplane bathrooms, kids usually have a harder time keeping their fingers to themselves. Just clean your hands and your kids' hands as soon as they've been in the bathroom, if they've gone for a walk around the galley, and every single time before they eat anything. I usually clean off their tray tables with one of the antibacterial wipes when we first sit down as well. If I could, I'd disinfect the seats, but even a germaphobic mom has to draw the line somewhere! Or so I've been told...

However, my recommendation is to keep up the obsessive-compulsive cleaning when you're in airports too. Since I started using the antibacterial wipes on my family (yes, including my husband) during travel, we get sick a lot less.

This article mentions other things you can do to stay healthy on board, though I don't think face-masks are a viable option for most kids.

To me, the most important tips to feel as good as possible on a long flight are:
  1. Keep your hands clean - Kill those germs any way you can and as often as you get a chance.
  2. Drink lots of fluids - The airplane environment is seriously dehydrating which can make you feel sick and run down, so try to drink a lot of water and juice while on board. The downside to this is that you might end up in the bathroom more often... but as long as you've got your antibacterial gel with you, you should be ok.
  3. Try to get some sleep - Sleep-deprivation can make you feel sick and make it easier to actually get sick too. If you're sitting in Economy on a long-haul flight, it's not always easy to get comfortable enough to sleep. Do the best you can. Let your kids sprawl however they like if that helps them sleep, use the airplane blankets and pillows, turn off the lights, close the window shade, listen to music, just do everything you can to get some shut-eye. It will help you feel better and will take the edge off the jetlag, or so I hear, because I usually can't get much sleep on board myself!
Taking your vitamins is another strategy. If you are considering vitamin supplements to protect you from illness on board, I'd suggest vitamin D rather than vitamin C (though drinking your orange juice will probably be beneficial too).

Nature's Plus - Animal Parade Vitamin D3 Chew, 500, 90 chewable tabletsCarlson Kids Liquid Vitamin D Drops 400 IU .34 fl oz (10 ml)

I'm usually not one to push vitamin supplements as a miracle solution for anything, but recent studies, as well as my personal experience with vitamin D suggests that it could actually really help with cold- and flu-prevention and the prevention of other illnesses as well (including stomach bugs). I won't go into over-sharing mommy-details, but let's just say that my children have been sick a lot less since I started giving them a vitamin D supplement last spring.

The authors of the study I mentioned at the beginning, hypothesize that the low humidity in the airplane cabin is a big factor increasing the transmission of colds on board. They also suggest that raising the humidity would be a Very Good Thing. I'm guessing though, that if it involves an extra cost to the airlines, it probably won't happen anytime soon. So keep your own hands clean and make your kids clean their hands until they sparkle, and drink lots of water.


  1. Buying extra bottles of water/juice at the shops inside the secure zone is a good strategy, and is no problem in the US, Canada, Japan, and Europe.

    In China and Hong Kong, however, they'll confiscate any liquids as you head through the jetbridge to your aircraft - even though you bought it just then. A real hassle, especially when trying to have formula ready.

  2. That does sound like a hassle! Great tip though! Thank you. :)

  3. Great tips.
    For the kids, check out the scented PocketBac sanitizers from Bath & Body Works. The kids at my daughter's school are going crazy over these things. Everyone has them and they trade them around.
    Creative packaging and names... it's a great way to get them to keep their hands clean.

  4. Wow, those look really cool (and also nicely sized for air-travel). Love it! Thanks so much for the tip!


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