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travel

8 Things You Should Never Do On An Airplane

Flying isn't always enjoyable, but these tips will help make for a smoother trip.


By juliana labianca
Photo by mathew cohen
5 min

GET STUCK WITH THE MIDDLE SEAT

More than half of Americans would rather go to the dentist than get stuck between two of their fellow fliers, according to a 2009 survey by the Global Strategy Group. Alas, sometimes the middle is all that’s left. Boost your chance of escaping it by setting a free alert on expertflyer.com. You select the type of seat you prefer (window or aisle) and your flight number. When a seat that meets your needs opens up, you’ll get an e-mail. Then you can go to the airline’s website and change your assignment.

NEGLECT YOUR A.M. SKIN CARE

Just because you’ll be inside doesn’t mean you can skip sunblock. One small study found that pilots flying for an hour got the same amount of radiation as if they had spent 20 minutes in a tanning bed. You’ll also want to moisturize to prevent parched and itchy skin—an airplane’s pressurized air is notoriously dry.

FALL ASLEEP BEFORE TAKEOFF

If you do, it will be harder for you to equalize the pressure in your ears (which you’ll do more quickly if you chew gum or yawn). If you’re prone to flight-induced headaches, hold off on your snooze until your ears pop.

CLOSE THE AIR VENT

The recirculated air inside the plane might not be as fresh as a daisy, but having it blow around your face can still be beneficial. Doctors recommend opening the overhead air vent and setting it on low to medium in order to keep germs from lingering in your personal space.

ORDER COFFEE OR TEA

Many airlines brew their hot drinks with water from an onboard tank, and—surprise—it’s not the most pristine part of the plane. A 2012 report from the Environmental Protection Agency found that 12 percent of airplanes carried water that tested positive for coliform, an indicator that other harmful bacteria could be present. Experts say heating the coffee and tea water usually won’t fully disinfect it.

...OR GUZZLE A SODA

An increase in altitude may cause intestinal gas to expand up to 30 percent, so you might want to avoid consuming carbonated drinks in the clouds. Keep your stomach settled with bottled water.

TOUCH THAT TRAY

Your seat-back tray is by far the most bacteria-loaded surface on the plane. One study found that trays harbor an average of 2,155 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. Compare that with the 265 units on the lavatory flush button. And while all samples tested negative for potentially infectious bacteria such as E. coli, you’ll still want to keep your food on the plate.

SIT THE ENTIRE FLIGHT

During trips longer than four hours, staying in place can slow your circulation and put you at a small risk for blood clots. Take a walk to the bathroom every two to three hours, or do a few in-seat exercises such as extending your legs and flexing your feet or pulling each knee to your chest for 15 seconds.