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Surgical masks while on the airplane


A friend who travels quite a bit gave me a tip today- wear a surgical mask while traveling on the
plane. She said the air on the plane is recycled and and wearing a mask will help prevent
illnesses like colds, etc. A good idea? Or, just should I just be careful with handwashing, etc. ?

Posted by
2081 posts


this is just my opinion and how i see life around me.

but i think if you're going to get sick, its going to happen. Yes you can do some preventative measures but for things like Viruses who knows. I've been around people that are sick and dont get it and sometimes do. Im sure you've been in the same sit.

what I've been doing after my first international trip was to:

  1. Stay hydrated. drink a lot of water.
  2. get more rest BEFORE i go on my trip. That will start 2 or 3 days before i leave. I know what I'm going to loose a day traveling so i can get more rest before i go.
  3. dont drink the airplane water in the WC.
  4. Keep my hands away from my face.
  5. Adjust the air vent on the plane down and near my area. that way i get some "fresh" air and it won't chill me or dry my sinus.

there was a sick kid in the row in front of me on the way back home. Im sure others were worried about what he had but there isn't much you can do other than to hope for the best.

happy trails.

Posted by
104 posts

Traveling can be stressful on the body. Bad sleep, dragging around luggage, bad food, different time zones ....all this can throw off your circadian rhythm and digestive system; not to mention depress your immune system. To add to this you are going to locations where thousands of people come in and out everyday leaving germs behind them. That can be a lot for a stressed immune system to combat. The best thing you can do to prepare for a trip is to get lots of sleep and good wholesome food. Always wash your hands, use a paper towels or your sleeve to grab door handles and sanitize your seat buttons, armrests, seat belts buckles, tray tables and over head buttons. (See Passenger Shaming on Facebook for the reason). I also add to this a container of Airborne. A big boost of vitamins (especially Vit. C which boosts the immune system). When you arrive in your destination city get a good wholesome meal (proteins, grains, veg, OJ) and try to get a full nights sleep your first night.

This is not a fool proof system but it can go a long way to helping keep you healthy. Should you get sick in Europe, find a pharmacy (green plus sign) and describe your symptoms to the pharmacist, they can prescribe behind the counter meds with a quick exam (that costs little to nothing for basic stuff).

Posted by
4689 posts

Some on the plane would interpret this as meaning that you had something contagious that you were trying to prevent other people picking up.

Basic surgical masks are next to useless for this, certainly after becoming wet from your breath after about 15 mins. You'd need something more filtering, at least N95 and that in itself can cause breathing problems headaches etc if worn for a prolonged time.

Posted by
841 posts

Wouldn't you have to remove the mask to eat or drink? Or would you go the whole time without eating or drinking?

Seriously, if I were that afraid of getting sick, I'd probably just stay home.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks for your honest replies and suggestions. I really didn't want to run and buy surgical masks just before my trip. I'll keep some hand sanitizer in my purse and wash my hands thoroughly like everyone suggested.

I'll try to get some rest before the trip (this coming Wednesday). I've had my flu shot already and I am fairly healthy. I'm hoping that continues!

Posted by
116 posts

A physician I know who has a medical condition that results in a compromised immune system informed me that he always wears a mask when he is travelling by plane. I recently read that some of the most germ laden items on the plane are the tray tables, and it was suggested that those should be wiped down to minimize exposure to germs. I think a mask definitely would help, although, of course, there is never a guarantee. In my profession, I'm often in the position of wearing a mask, and, one thing I am sure of, is that I could not tolerate wearing a mask for any length flight...too uncomfortable for me.

Posted by
855 posts


Don't just bring hand sanitizer, bring some of the sanitizer wipes. You need to wipe down everything at your seat, armrests, seat buttons, tray table (front & back) and I wipe down the top of the seat where my head rests, especially if I'm sleeping with my head to the side. When I go into a hotel, I wipe down a few things. first the remote control for the tv, it's the first thing that hubby goes for. I also wipe down the doorknobs and light switches.

Other than these things, just do what others have said and get sleep, drink water and have a good time. I agree about the suggestion of pharmacists in Europe. They have been very helpful to us.
Have a great trip and try not to worry,

Posted by
14 posts


Thanks for the idea of bringing the wipes. I like the idea of wiping down everything before we use it.
We will be flying from Chicago to Dublin, so it will be a long flight. The hand sanitizer will come in handy when we're out on the tour bus and stopping to use the bathrooms, etc.

I am excited about the trip- I haven't traveled this far before. All of your ideas are great- very practical and sensible.

Posted by
4684 posts

Surgical masks do more to prevent other people from catching your germs than the other way round.

Posted by
1034 posts

Unless you plan to swap out your surgical mask at frequent, regular intervals, it will be useless to you after the first 15-20 minutes and, in the interval, while you are wearing it, you will alienate all your fellow travellers, who will believe you are flying with a communicable disease.

Posted by
715 posts

I am kinda at a loss as to why, unless one had a communicable disease, one would wear a surgical mask on a plane. I am also in the camp that hand sanitizer and wipes are rather bad for the environment. We just keep thinking up new ways to fill the landfills.

Posted by
9110 posts

I'll keep some hand sanitizer in my purse . . . .

Use it sitting near me and your whole system will be germ free 'cause it's going right down your throat. :)
Seriously, that crap really gets to some people.

Posted by
258 posts

A nurse's perspective....
Chill out! You are supposed to be on vacation. Try not to stress out over anything as stress will increase you potential to get sick from anything out there. Schedule in enough time to reach you next destination with a minimum of stress. Read up on where you are going and how to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport/train station.
A "real" surgical mask is effective for about 8 hrs and does more to protect others than you. If you are not used to wearing one, you won't be able to keep it on. The masks you pick up at the drugstore are probably not rated for any great length of time. Save your money.
Instead, be meticulous about handwashing. Soap and water (regular soap not the antimicrobial) is best. Sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself as you wash. You should wash for as long as you are singing. Use the towel to shut the faucet and open the door. If you can't wash your hands, the hand sanitizers work well.
Stay hydrated. Coffee and alcohol are dehydrating. Instead, drink water but NOT the water in the airline toilets. Bring your own water bottle and fill it up post security.
My major pet peeve... ladies, do not squat over the toilet unless you are willing to clean the seat after use! Ditto for the guys who don't raise the seat.
I have never gotten sick when I travel. I don't wipe down the overhead trays or anything else but will wash my hands and/or use sanitizer when necessary. Common sense is the key.

Posted by
8296 posts

I don't, and wouldn't wear a mask. But it is true that any time you're indoors, breathing recycled air (plane, dept store, movie theater, malls, etc) you are breathing in more germs. I found this out after my son was born with severe health issues and his doctors at UCSF warned me not take him anywhere that had recycled air. I had to worry about it for many years, but thankfully not anymore.

Posted by
796 posts

Excellent idea. A mask and plenty of handwashing are both good. Keep in mind a man just flew to the USA with Ebola and no one knows what others on the plane may have. Better to take precautions than to ruin your trip being sick and needing a doctor or hospital and having to pay out of pocket.

Posted by
841 posts

Thank you jkc and cbrochu30. I agree with you.

Posted by
786 posts

To second what cbrochu30 said- frequent hand washing is the single most important thing in preventing yourself from getting sick. Surgical masks are polite if you have a cough or the flu. But hopefully if you have the flu, you aren't getting on an airplane.

Posted by
2018 posts

For years I have flown weekly. I have never bothered with a mask or the over the top disinfectant application. And amazingly I can't recall my last illness.

And actual studies have been done. That airplane air is not the culprit folks want to believe it is.

Posted by
5476 posts

Look, people will believe what they want to believe, regardless of the actual facts. The NY Times reported that there are counties in California where the child vaccination rate is lower than in Southern Sudan. But I don't get my medical advice from Jenny McCarthy.

Assymptomatic Ebola victims are not contagious. Get it?

Posted by
12898 posts

I don't wear a surgical mask on the plane and wouldn't either unless I was ordered to do so. That's why I fly to Europe in the summer when chances are that if sick and contagious people are going to be on the plane, more of that will take place in Nov and the winter. One person told me one drawback flying back to the Midwest or East coast over the holidays starting with Thanksgiving is the number of passengers who obviously have colds on the flight and you're sitting amongst them. You won't see sick passengers with the distinct symtoms in the summer. If so, certainly not in those numbers.

Posted by
25 posts

I wear a mask when I fly and have done so on flights across the US and to Hawaii. I have never had anyone give me a weird look or a hard time. I have had people ask and then I explain why . For me it is more about humidity more than germs. The mask keeps the air I breath more humid and help keep my mucous membranes from drying out. Dry mucous make you more open to germs. I only put the mask on when they close the door and put us one cabin air. I take it off to eat and use the lav. I also have to use a humidifier when I travel to dry areas. I always got sick when I flew pre - mask even using saline spray and drinking lots of water (which was what the doc recommended).

Posted by
31471 posts


I never wear a mask during air travel and so far haven't had any major problems. As Sara mentioned, there are a lot of other stressors caused by air travel, so you're probably going to be affected by these whether you wear a mask or not. It's also possible you could be sitting beside someone that has the Flu or whatever while you're in the departure lounge, and not wearing a mask.

Especially after seeing THIS story, I do agree that it's a good idea to wipe down the table trays, armrests, etc, with an anti-bacterial wipe.

Posted by
11257 posts

I just bought one of these to wear on my next flight:

I now think I'm going to wear it all the time whenever I travel. After all, you never know who you might pass on the street--someone from West Africa, someone who knows someone from West Africa, someone who can find West Africa on a map.

It's better to be safe than sorry.

As stated before, you are more likely to catch something from touching the area around your seat (armrests, tray table, etc.) than you will through the air system on a plane. BTW, the air may be recirculated but it's also filtered as part of that process.

Posted by
3696 posts

@FrankII... do you know if they have this in any other color? That one is not good for me:)

Posted by
223 posts

I always take sanitizing wipes for my seat. They aren't cleaned properly. I have bought some respirator masks (extremely lightweight, last longer). Because I caught h1n1 on a flight from Mexico, after handing my terribly ill neighbor everything I could think of to help keep her clean, I travel, but mindfully. I expect to be handing the mask to the sick person, not myself. I also don't expect to need it over Christmas holidays going to Italy, anyway.