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surgical mask for Int'l flight?

Hi, This is an embarrasing question. that is,I'm contemplating wearing a "surgical" face mask for an international Flight from SFO to Frankfurt.I see them in Asia all the time on flights.the pharmacist says there's no science to back it up for efficacy.Anybody have any input either way? I don't have anything to lose .thanks in advance.

Posted by
505 posts

The pharmacist is right - unless you get one of the expensive Hepa filter masks, there's little to no benefit. Airplane air is filtered anyway, so there is very, very little risk of infection.

The only reason to wear a mask is if you have severe allergies to things like perfumes etc. and might encounter them on the plane, or have a compromised immune system. And in those cases, use would probably be suggested by a medical professional.


Posted by
683 posts

Do you normally wear one at home? at work? when going out to dinner or elsewhere? to neighbors and relatives homes? If you do, go ahead. If not, you have been in the presence of amazing amounts of microbes both harmful and beneficial yet have experienced little effect. There is no reason too believe that the airliner would differ substantially. The prior pooster is right- there is absolutely no scientific basis for thoose masks, tho they do prevent inhalation of large particles

Posted by
12040 posts

Typical surgical masks are designed to protect the patient, not the wearer. Unless you are a TB carrier (in which case you shouldn't fly anyway) or plan on getting a respiratory infection before the flight, you need not worry.

Posted by
15 posts

thankyou all for your input. No, I'm not a T.B. carrier,nor do i have a compromised immune system. I'm in perfect health.I just thought that breathing"recycled" air in those jets for such a long period of time, was a vastly different situation than me breathing air in my neighborhood area in the U.S.

Posted by
42 posts


If you are worried about catching something on the plane ie: cold etc, I would suggest using airborne. I was skeptical of it at first and I kept hearing many good things about it so I tried it and have been using it for a couple of years now. I raely get sick anymore.

Posted by
10344 posts

Jim: You referred to breathing recycled air. Some/many experience dehydration of nasal passages on long flights, apparently airplane cabin air is drier than on the ground. The advice usually given is to drink water and avoid, or at least don't overdo, the coffee and alcohol (I guess these further dehydrate you). Personally, I still like a glass of wine on an airplane, I've read that a cabin pressurized at the equivalent of 6000 feet above sea level increases the effect of the alcohol.

Posted by
80 posts

The air on a plane is just as clean as regular air and you are not going to get sick just by breathing it, that is a myth. You may get sick if your seat partner sneezes on you or you touch a railing with germs from the last person who touched it, but just breathing the air is fine, it is clean, normal air. Just wash your hands thoroughly before you eat anything, and avoid touching your eyes and mouth and you will be fine. Bon Voyage!

Posted by
15 posts

again, thankyou all for your helpful insights!

Posted by
221 posts

my friend who is a nurse travels with one all the time. she recently was returning from a conference on a long flight and a man next to her coughed the whole flight, she pulled out her mask and wore it. If a medical professional thinks of it as an option, it must have some validity. and when you fly make sure to wash your hands a lot, I always take some hand sanitizer with me too.

Posted by
932 posts

Jodi, I was going to say the same thing as you. I've packed my Airborne for my flight and I'm going to drink it before and during the flight. It's nice to have a preventative that's not as embarassing as a surgical mask!

Posted by
15 posts

I bought my "airborne".plus, i've got "Nozin" also.!that'll suit me fine! I figured out in Asia the people who are sick just put on masks as a courtesy on the flight. I'd do the same!

Posted by
112 posts

I used to get sick everytime we took a plane trip.
About 5 yrs ago, I bought an ionic air purifier
that is about the size of a small battery and it
hangs around my neck. I also use a saline nose
jell. I have'nt gotten sick since.

My daughter puts the the saline jell in her
7 yr old daughter's nose and she has not been sick
in a year. Not even a cold. We also wash our
hands a lot.

Posted by
808 posts

It's probably safe to say that no one spends more time in an aircraft cabin than the Cabin Crew themselves.

Aircraft cabins are not the breeding grounds for sickness that the general public seems to think. Flight Attendants statistically do not miss duty due to airbourne illness any more often than average joe working elsewhere. Whether operating long-haul or short-haul flights, no difference in occurance. A good quality multi-vitamin IMO, IME, is just as good as the over the counter formulations you can buy as pre-flight preventatives. I don't buy these and don't know too many F/A's who take these for every flight.

I'd be more concerned with my overall lifestyle choices, exercise, nutrition and plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages. Washing your hands regularily and/or using sanitizer when clean water is not readily available.
Simple precautions go a long way to maintaining good health during air travel and travel in general.

Fly safe!

Posted by
93 posts

As a nurse, I gotta say somethin'. :)

In my unit, neonatal ICU, we've talked about having ill parents visiting their babies. We just don't let them, even with a mask.


Because a mask is only good for about 15 minutes. After that, it becomes damp from your breathing and then it's not really any good anymore as far as germs go.

My point? Not really gonna be effective in this situation.

Posted by
1 posts

Here is a little tip from a doctor friend. Place a little dab of petroleum jelly on your upper lip and in each nostril ... this apparently does help and is less obvious than a mask.

Posted by
970 posts

it's my understanding that inserting petroleum jelly into the nose risks seeing some of that jelly end up in your lungs. I'd want to ask my physician.

As for the rest, well, I suspect most airborne illnesses result from being confined in a small space with 100 or more people for a long time. The little critters that make us sick come from other people. Most of us aren't regularly exposed to that many people so our defenses may not be able to fend off the exposure. Go spend a day or so working inside with kids at an elementary school and see what happens.

Washing your hands is the best defense. A serious wash, not a 5-second quickie. Avoid touching your face, eyes, etc.

Posted by
11450 posts

LOL, jelly in the lungs,, just from smearing it under ones nose, now come on ,, that is just not possible.
I had an entire childhood where mom smeared Vicks vapor rub on our noses, and it seemed to be the fashion to do that ,, so when did any of us end up with it in our lungs!! ?

I do feel that airplanes are dirty,, they do not wash down each surface with disenfectant after each flight after all, but as pointed out, it is the TOUCHING of the surfaces and then ones own face that is the main pathway for the germs. Also , letting nasal passages get dry makes you more vulenable to the germs as your mucus is part of the bodys defence system.
I wash my hands alot, use santizer wipe on seat tray, and drink a ton of WATER and have found I stay fairly healthy that way. Also make sure you get enough sleep and try not to get stressed out as I think your immune system is weakest when you are stressed( and travel can do that!)

Posted by
1717 posts

This is an interesting topic. The air in an airplane is filtered, but air in an airplane is awful. When an airplane is in the air, no air comes in from the outside. Thus, the amount of oxygen in the airplane is reduced, and the amount of carbon dioxide in that air is increased. On a recent flight from Copenhagen Denmark to Atlanta Georgia U.S.A., after seven hours in the air, I awoke from a quick sleep, with an uncomfortable sensation in my head. I felt like I was being poisoned. I knew it was because my body was not getting enough oxygen. (My breathing is very shallow when I am asleep). So I immediately stood up and walked in the aisles, walking fast. Fortunately, the flight attendants did not have any carts in the aisles at that time. When I was walking there, I did deep breathing, and very soon I felt normal and healthy. The flight attendant who saw me walking knew what I was doing, and why. She knew I needed to do deep breathing to get enough oxygen from the inferior air there.

Posted by
4555 posts

Ron....while your condition may have had something to do with lack of oxygen, it probably had more to do with the altitude than the air. Air through aircraft cabins is actually mixed with outside air, about 50-50, to keep carbon dioxide limits to within acceptable levels. The air changes through a modern jetliner about one every 2 to 3 minutes, and is filtered to a point the airline manufacturers claim at least 95 per cent of microbes and viruses are filtered out....far better than most office buildings, they say. However, aircraft are pressurized to an 8,000 foot level. So if you're from the lowlands, you may feel the effects of a lack of oxygen because of the simulated altitude. At 8,000 feet, the amount of oxygen in the air is about 40 per cent less than it is at sea level.

Posted by
152 posts

I'm a pulmonary physician. Masks are of no value in preventing you from getting a respiratory infection. They may help to keep your upper airways from getting dried out, with the major discomfort that comes from wearing the mask for more than a few minutes. Try it.

I carry a small container of nasal saline spray, available cheap as a generic at any pharmacy, and use it every couple hours. There is some risk to the lungs from inhaling vapors from petroleum jelly.

My wife is a true believer in Airborne (invented by a school teacher!). I am a skeptic, but use it sporadically. I agree with hand washing and use of antiseptic wipes/liquids frequently on long flights, and after trips to rest room.

Or, just don't inhale.

Posted by
808 posts

The poster who commented that all surfaces are not disinfected between passengers, between flights is correct.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the responsibility of the Flight Attendants to groom and disinfect the aircraft cabin.
As passengers are deplaning and new passengers boarding, the crew is actually still working doing all necessary safety related inspections and preparations to ensure the safe operation of the continuing flight. Most people don't realize that this is actually taking place.

Groomers are responsible for cleaning the Aircraft. They only have on average 10-15 minutes to come on and clean up. That is the reality of the Industry. And in some parts of the world, it is not uncommon to see young children working along side their Parents cleaning.
Customer service is perhaps our most visible role, however, it is actually less than 10% of our overall responsibility. Inflight safety is paramount and will always take priority.

Posted by
11450 posts

In flight ..- I was the poster who commented on the plane not being disinfected in between flights . I did not mean to imply in any way that it was the flight attendants duty to do so, in fact I assume a cleaning crew boards for that sort of job. I was merely commenting on this so that people realize there are more germs on the surfaces we all touch, then airborne. Hand washing is in fact the best preventative against contracting most cold bugs.
Years ago , during "cold season" I took one of my kids to the doctor ,, and everyone in that waiting room seemed to be sneezing and coughing, I asked my doctor how she avoided getting sick as she was in a tiny examination room , all day long, with sick people. Her answer was " hand washing" . I believe it works. Nothing can prevent all illness, but hand washing , and not letting oneself get run down ,are in fact better then wearing a mask anyday.!

Posted by
808 posts

Thanks Pat and to everyone out there who is aware that cleaning the aircraft is the responsibility of the Groomers and not the Flight Crew. Not that we are above cleaning the aircraft, most of us would gladly lend a hand. But while the Groomers are Grooming we need to get those safety and security checks done. A less than clean plane will still clear for takeoff, but an unsafe one won't.