Disease Virus

Airplane Horror Story

For an indoor air nerd, there’s no worse nightmare than sitting next to the one guy on the airplane that is sick and coughing uncontrollably.   There I was today, strapped in at 10,000 feet next to a young man who managed to cough for 4 long hours from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Here’s a game plan if you ever get stuck in the same situation:

1. Ask to move.  And I’m not talking about the next row over.  For best avoidance, move at least 7 rows away from the offender.  This was the maximum number of rows SARS traveled in a well documented flight in China.  Today’s flight was fully booked so this was not an option.  I got up during the flight to stretch my legs and get a slight reprieve.

2. Position you personal air supply between you and the offender.  This will create an air curtain to create a pressure barrier.  Open it up to maximize the flow of air and get a blanket if you get cold.  For added effect, turn your face away from the offender.

3. Don’t touch your face and keep your hands clean.  Cough droplets can land on you and your tray table.  Basic hygiene goes a long way.

For a great summary of the science behind air cabin quality, read the article “Germs, Flying, and the Truth” by Douglas S. Walkinshaw (ASHRAE Journal, April 2010).  That article is the reference source for this blog post.  If you’re not an ASHRAE member, Google it and you should be able to find a copy.

So how did it all turn out?  I employed point #2 and #3 above, but it will take a few days to see if I successfully avoided the germs.  Getting a good night’s rest is also an important component to minimizing colds and flus.  It’s not about living in a sterile bubble, you want to have a robust immune system that can withstand a few germs.  There was some interesting research on that I’ll share at a later date.

Let me take my own advice and say goodnight.

By Ian Cull

I'm I.A.N. the Indoor Air Nerd. I'm a speaker and consultant on indoor air quality issues. To learn more about me, click "about" at the top of this page.

2 replies on “Airplane Horror Story”

Goodness Ian, I guess it is a good thing it was only a four hour trip and not that trip to China. Hope everything worked out well, and thanks for the advice.

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