According to experts, this quick task could protect you against serious illnesses.
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Airborne illness is a concern for many travelers on commercial flights. Common colds, coughs, influenza, and much more can be spread through the recycled air in an airplane, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But other viruses and diseases—think: MRSA, E. coli, or COVID—can be spread through contact with an airplane's surfaces, including your seat.

"Airplanes are an excellent place to pick up some germs," says Thomas Horowitz, M.D., family medicine specialist at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. "Many people worry about recirculated air, but most infections come from your hands after touching things in the airplane."

empty row of airplane seats
Credit: franckreporter / Getty Images

All these free-loading germs beg the question: Should you wipe your seat down before you sit? Horowitz says that while there's no practical way to wipe down a fabric seat, those made from a plastic-like material can and should be wiped down with wipes that contain hydrogen peroxide.

Andrew Dominic DeMarco, MD, FACP, medical director of Connected Health, says that Lysol or Clorox wipes are two of the products approved by the EPA to kill the coronavirus. In purchasing a disinfectant, it's most important to look for the percentage of isopropyl alcohol in its list of ingredients. "The object isn't to make the flying public panic," he says of the extra precaution. "But those with low immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, or those who suffer from a chronic illness can take this extra simple step to protect themselves."

Don't stop with your seat, either: Wipe down any hard surfaces you will touch during your flight, including your arm and headrests, the food tray, TV and audio controls, and belt buckles. In other words, "wipe down anything and everything that you are likely to touch during your flight because the flyer before you most likely touched those surfaces as well," DeMarco says.

To make sure you've properly sanitized these areas, Horowitz says you must allow the surfaces to remain wet from the wipe and dry naturally. Without adequate "wet" time, they may not work. Horowitz also suggests carrying disinfectant hand wipes or gel in your carry-on bag or personal item. "Use these after touching anything you did not disinfect," he says, including a fabric seat.

And consider covering up as an added protection against any seat-laden germs, which, in fabric seats, can even include live critters, such as lice, Horowitz explains. A face mask, long sleeves, and clothes that cover your legs will offer the best protection.

Horowitz also advocates for wearing a hooded sweatshirt on flights. "A hoodie is the best way to protect your neck and hair," he says. "Once you get to your destination, you should shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes."

Comments (4)

Martha Stewart Member
February 29, 2020
Hydrogen peroxide does not bleach. I use it all the time on my clothes to remove stains. Also use it on my carpets when something spills and stains. Works wonders.
Martha Stewart Member
February 5, 2020
Warning: using hydrogen peroxide on any surface that your clothing touches can result in bleaching of the fabric. Even when the surface is "dry," don't be surprised if your clothing develops light bleach marks. I'd use disinfectant towelettes to wipe down hard surfaces on an airplane, things like arm rests, tray table, the wall near the window. And I'd take sanitary towelettes to wipe down the lavatory latch, toilet seat and any hard surface you touch in the lav. Along with washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Use disposable slippers in the plane instead of walking around in your socks.
Martha Stewart Member
February 3, 2020
Agree in theory, but not gels in certain quantities are prohibited, perceptions of other passengers seeing you busy wiping/ waiting to dry would be impossible in heavy busy flights. A far better method my great Aunt Mary always did on trips into city.on trains/ trams /lifts/ elevators etc - she wore little cotton gloves. And sweetly made me do too as a little girl. We had lots - different colors and they were always washed after we got home. We removed them to eat when out- and always washing hands before eating was the rule. And never touch your face/nose with unwashed or gloved hand. Simple easy to do. She was so healthy and lived well into her nineties at her home in East Melbourne.
Martha Stewart Member
February 3, 2020
Just read this article from Jillian Kramer ----- I would love to wipe down my seat before sitting in it -- but in the real world WHEN is there time to wipe down your plane seat & personal space before touching it, let alone giving it time to dry --- You board, put your bags overhead, get out of the aisle for others trying to board which forces you to sit, therefore touching everything first.