Don’t Want to Catch a Bug on a Plane? Put at Least 2 Rows Between You and Sick Flyers

Sep 6, 2018

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If you’re sitting within two seats or one row of a sick passenger on a plane, then there is more than an 80% chance that you will get sick, too.

That is one of the findings of a new study tracking airborne viruses passed from passengers and crew in aircraft cabins. Researchers wrote earlier this week in the medical journal PNAS that the location of your seat — and how often you leave it — could make all the difference in whether you arrive healthy or with the sniffles — or even the flu. It all boils down to whether there are sick people on board the flight — and how close you get to them.

The more a passenger gets out of their seat, the more likely they are to come in contact with an airborne germ or virus. Looking at the passengers of 10 transcontinental flights, the researchers found that about 38% of passengers never left their seats, and roughly the same percentage got up just once. About 13% of passengers got up twice and 11% left their seats more than twice.

The good news? According to the study, if you’re not one of the unlucky people within one row or a couple seats of a plane’s patient zero, you only have about a 3% chance of catching a bug.

“Passengers should not be concerned about getting sick from somebody coughing, for instance, five rows behind them,” the lead author of the study, Vicki Stover Hertzberg, told CNN. “The results of this study have not prevented me from flying.”

Hertzberg and her team also found that aboard the transcon flights examined in the study, flight attendants had about 67 minutes of passenger interaction time. Based on that, the team estimates that one sick flight attendant could infect up to five unsuspecting passengers per plane.

A recent plane full of people learned this lesson the hard way. An Emirates flight from Dubai (DXB) to New York (JFK) had to be quarantined upon arrival because at least 10 passengers had fallen ill with flu-like symptoms on board. The plane was met be the Centers of Disease Control at landing, and the sick passengers were taken directly to the hospital via ambulances for further treatment.

Featured image by Shutterstock.

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