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Have you ever flown and sat next to a sick person?

By December 22, 2008 - 11:41am
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I am getting ready to fly home for the holidays. It's a long flight and I'm reminded what happened last year. I boarded the plane and found my seat and settled in. When the woman arrived to sit next to me, she was sick

-- coughing, holding tissue and obviously feeling miserable. During the flight she sneezed and coughed quite a lot. And you guessed it -- within 24 hours of that flight, I caught the bug.

I felt sorry for the woman, she clearly felt badly. But if a sick person chooses to fly, must the airline allow it? If you are the person seated next to that person, do you have the right to ask for another seat? Or must you simply keep the seat and hope that you can stay well?

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If you think about how a cold and other respiratory diseases are spread, the best way to avoid "catching a cold" is to avoid the infected airborne droplets that are sneezed or coughed from the sick person, and avoiding surfaces that have been touched by the infected person (the cold virus can last up to 3 hours on surfaces).

- Hand-to-hand contact spreads the cold virus most frequently, followed by airborne droplets (from sneezing/coughing). WASH YOUR HANDS frequently (and avoid touching your own face)!! If you are unable to get out of your seat, the CDC recommends alcohol-based products made specifically for washing hands.

- Be as self-sufficient as possible to avoid as much hand-to-hand contact as you can. Bring your own food/drink as well as your own pillow, blanket (or use a sweater). (Not that you aren't already loaded-down with stuff to begin with!).

- To avoid excess exposure to droplets, you may try to point the little fan above your head toward the open space between you/the sick person (do not blow the air on them; err on the side of having it blow just on your shoulder).

- This may be over-the-top, but you can always wear a face mask! In fact, the NIH cites airborne germs as one of the top two sources of cold virus infection; some travelers have taken to wearing masks either to prevent infection, or when they themselves are already infected.

- If you can not find another seat, the sick passenger can be asked to turn their head away from people and cough/sneeze into a tissue to avoid spreading [as many] droplets into the air. They should also be washing their hands frequently.

- Another idea: stay well hydrated (bring your own water, if possible). The dry air in the airplane cabin may contribute to the higher percentage of cold transmission (see link below for study: "At very low levels of humidity, the "natural defense system" of mucus in our noses and throats dries up and is crippled, creating a much more tolerant environment for germs to infect us."). Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine (which can dehydrate you).

Here is an interesting article for all airplane travelers to read:

December 23, 2008 - 3:55pm

Yes, you have the right to request another seat - if available. You can even ask the flight attendant to see about moving the sick passenger (hopefully you have a diplomatic attendant, not one in a bad mood). The poor woman probably would have understood. There have been some rather rude passengers, though, who act as though they have a constitutional right to endanger other people's health.

December 22, 2008 - 5:24pm
EmpowHER Guest

Ask for another seat!!

December 22, 2008 - 12:16pm
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