Unraveling the Truth: Is it Common to Get Sick After Flying?

Ever disembarked from a long flight only to find yourself feeling under the weather? You’re not alone. Many travelers report feeling unwell after a journey in the skies, sparking the question: is it common to get sick after flying?

Air travel can be an exciting adventure, but it’s also a hotbed for germs and stress, which can take a toll on your health. Let’s dive into the science behind post-flight sickness and explore how you can protect yourself on your next trip. Stay tuned as we unravel the mystery behind this common traveler’s predicament.

Key Takeaways

  • Air travel significantly increases your exposure to various germs, which can result in sickness post-flight. This is especially true if you are seated close to a person with a contagious illness.
  • Limited movement during a flight can lead to developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition where blood clots develop in your legs. These clots could lead to severe complications if not addressed promptly.
  • Rapid changes in cabin pressure during flight can potentially cause Barotrauma, a condition that affects air-filled spaces in your body such as your ears, sinuses, and lungs. This condition can significantly contribute to a post-flight feeling of sickness.
  • Jet lag, caused by rapid travel across multiple time zones, can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm and contribute to feelings of fatigue, digestive issues, and overall unwellness.
  • Factors such as close proximity to others, poor hygiene practices, dehydration, pre-existing health conditions, and high stress levels can amplify your chances of falling ill post-flight.
  • To minimize your chances of post-flight sickness, stay hydrated, maintain distance when possible, engage in in-flight exercises, maintain good hygiene, and manage your stress and fatigue levels before and during your flight.

Understanding Why You Might Feel Sick After Flying

Airplane journeys might cause you to feel under the weather for several reasons. Falling ill post-flight isn’t a mere coincidence; it’s often due to certain factors linked directly to air travel. These factors include cabin pressure changes, limited movement during the flight, and exposure to germs.

Odyssey across different time zones disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm. Commonly known as “jet lag”, such disruption can lead to symptoms like fatigue, difficulty in staying awake, and even digestive disorders. For instance, a red-eye flight from New York to London shifts five time zones eastwards. This alteration disrupts your sleep pattern, and hence, you might end up feeling unwell upon landing.

Also, cramped conditions on airplanes restrict your movement for extended periods, leading to the development of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In such cases, blood clots develop in the deep veins of your legs and this could lead to severe complications if not addressed promptly. In flight, it’s advisable for you to walk around or stretch your legs periodically to prevent DVT.

During air travel, fluctuating cabin pressure may be another reason for you feeling sick after the flight. Rapid change in altitude can lead to a condition called Barotrauma, which affects your body’s air-filled spaces such as ears, sinuses, and lungs. Symptoms include ear pain, sinus congestion, and in severe cases, lung injury.

Lastly, your exposure to the airplane’s closed environment increases your chances of catching an infectious disease. Germs thrive in such environments, particularly when individuals in close proximity exhibit signs of illness. Recirculated air potentially exposes you to millions of microorganisms, leading to post-flight sickness.

By recognizing these potential triggers, you can take the necessary steps to minimize your risk of falling ill after your flight. These measures include adhering to a sleep schedule, practicing in-flight exercises, and maintaining good hygiene.

The Science Behind Post-Flight Sickness

Contrary to your assumptions, occurrences of getting sick after a flight aren’t merely conjecture. A slew of studies signify the veracity of this phenomenon. Delving into the genetics of post-flight sickness, it’s pivotal to grasp two crucial elements: your immune system’s response and the environment you’re in.

First off, consider the change in your environment. As soon as you step into an aircraft, you’re exposed to myriad germs, magnifying your chance to catch an infection. A study by BMC Infectious Diseases (2018) illustrated that passengers within two seats or one row of a person with a respiratory illness have an 80% greater chance of getting sick.

Secondly, understand how your body reacts to the new environment. Research exhibits that being in a pressurized cabin alters your body’s functioning, especially your immune system. An investigation by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2008) found the immune system’s elements responsible for tackling bacteria and viruses become subdued. This suppression makes you more susceptible to infections which could lead to post-flight sickness, proving that your environment and immune system play integral roles in this occurrence.

Crucially, the stagnancy during the flight could also set off problems. The American Heart Association outlines the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – blood clots in deep veins, typically in legs – due to limited movement. DVT, if severe, can trigger complications like pulmonary embolism, a condition characterized by a sudden blockage in the lung arteries.

Lastly, there’s jet lag, an internal body clock disturbance caused by speedy travel across multiple time zones. The Mayo Clinic reveals that this rapid shift can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, causing symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, or digestive problems – all contributing to a feeling of being unwell.

Altogether, a blend of these factors sets the stage for post-flight sickness. A shift in environment, immune responses, limited movement, and sleep cycle disruptions all pile up, disrupting your well-being upon landing. Your journey doesn’t end when the airplane’s wheels touch the ground; your body continues to adapt and cope with the journey’s aftereffects.

Factors That Can Increase Your Chances of Getting Sick

Transitioning from the basic understanding of why one might fall ill post-flight, let’s delve into specifics. Several elements amplify your susceptibility to sickness after a plane ride. Let’s examine them more closely.

  1. Close Proximity to Others: An airplane’s closed interior juxtaposes individuals from diverse geographical areas. This scenario more often than not leads to an explosion of germ variants, which your immune system may struggle to fight off. For instance, sharing primary sources like air or items such as food trays with infected passengers puts your health at risk.
  2. Poor Hygiene Practices: It’s surprising how often our hands come into contact with disease-causing microbes. When you neglect regular hand washing, or rely solely on hand sanitizers, you magnify your chances of health issues post-flight. For example, touching contaminated surfaces like tray tables or armrests and then touching your face invites infections.
  3. Dehydration: Although most understand the consequences of dehydration, it’s often overlooked. The dry cabin air contributes to dehydration, which weakens your immune system function—a prime scenario for opportunistic germs to strike.
  4. Pre-existing Health Conditions: If you have a chronic disease like diabetes or asthma, you’re more susceptible to fall ill due to lowered immunity. These ailments make your body less capable of withstanding the cabin environment’s stressors.
  5. Stress and Fatigue: Travelling, coupled with hectic schedules and jet lag, boosts your stress levels. Constant stress, coupled with fatigue, compromises your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

In sum, a convergence of these factors and your individual behaviors and health status collaborate to decide whether you’ll stay hale and hearty or fall prey to post-flight sickness. Upcoming sections cover practical, science-backed prevention strategies, letting you take control of your health while travelling.

Tips to Avoid Getting Sick After Flying

Choosing the right steps, enables you to halt post-flight sickness effectively. Consider following this cluster of guidelines to safeguard your health during travels.

Firstly, curb dehydration by sipping water continuously throughout the flight. A study by the World Health Organization states that drinking plenty gives a boost to your immune system, thus effectively creating a barrier against airborne germs.

Secondly, keep a gap from fellow passengers, when possible. The closer you sit, the easier it’s for germs to transmit. This may not always be feasible so, alternatively, avoid face-touching, a common cause for sickness as reported by the American Journal of Infection Control.

Thirdly, maintain body movement during the flight. Engage in simple in-seat stretches or walk up and down the aisle, this prevents blood clots, as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regular movement increases blood circulation and helps in warding off stiffness and lethargy.

Fourthly, indulge in personal hygiene. This means washing your hands regularly, using antibacterial wipes on surfaces, and using a hand sanitizer. The International Society of Travel Medicine emphasizes keeping a personal hygiene kit handy to manage cleanliness.

Lastly, tackle stress and fatigue before flying. A study by the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that adequate rest and relaxation techniques significantly benefit your immune system, thus reducing the chances of getting sick.

In essence, being proactive rewards you with a protected system against the common causes of post-flight sickness. It encourages a healthier flying experience, ensuring you arrive at your destination feeling more robust and rejuvenated.

Expert Opinions: Is It Really Common to Get Sick After Flying?

Accomplished medical professionals and aviation health specialists affirm that sickness after flights isn’t a universal outcome. Each traveler’s experience varies, contingent on factors such as the individual’s health status, habits during the flight, and exposure to specific illness triggers. But, revealing statistics hint at a pattern.

According to the Journal of Environmental Health Research, you’re 100 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than normal circumstances. This alarming statistic calls for awareness and adherence to precautionary measures, as discussed in previous sections.

Dr. Richard Dawood, a London-based travel health expert, concurs with these findings. He explains that high passenger load, coupled with minimal air exchange in the cabin, transforms planes into breeding grounds for respiratory infection. Crowded flights become microcosms that, somehow, create a perfect storm for airborne diseases.

Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, substantiates this perspective. He points out that it’s not necessarily the flight itself; it’s the number of people you’re exposed to. The tight row seating creates a conducive environment for germ interchange.

Nonetheless, as echoed by Pharmacist Bineesh Moyeed, your onboard behavior is instrumental in dictating whether you fall ill post-flight. Commonly, indulging in flight beverages like coffee and alcohol accelerates dehydration – a catalyst for jet lag, fatigue, and overall post-flight malaise.

Furthermore, the Air Transport Medical Bureau’s report divulges that 75% of long-haul passengers associated their ailments to minor respiratory afflictions. The report illuminates the cross-connection between the aging aircraft fleets and the increased chances of illness.

In a nutshell, expert opinions reference linking environmental conditions, passenger behaviors, and individual health susceptibilities to post-flight sickness. While this makes sickness after flying extremely common, it’s not universal. Adherence to prevention strategies empowers you to maintain your health during your flight, mitigating the often dreaded post-flight sickness.


So, you’ve learned that it’s not uncommon to feel a bit under the weather after a flight. Your health, habits, and the environment you’re in on the plane all play a role. You’ve seen the statistics and heard from the experts. It’s clear that crowded flights and aging aircraft can up the ante when it comes to getting sick. But remember, it’s not inevitable. You have the power to reduce your risk. Stay hydrated, practice good hygiene, and manage your stress levels. These simple steps can make a big difference. Next time you fly, you’ll be better equipped to keep those post-flight sniffles at bay. Safe travels!

Why might I feel sick after a flight?

You might feel sick after a flight because of factors like changes in cabin pressure, limited movement, exposure to germs, jet lag and stress. Factors such as proximity to others, poor hygiene, and dehydration can also increase the risk.

Are all individuals likely to get sick after a flight?

No, the likelihood of falling sick post-flight differs among individuals. It is influenced by one’s health, in-flight habits, and exposure to illness triggers.

Are you more likely to catch a cold on a plane?

Yes, statistics show a higher risk of catching a cold on a plane, due largely to the close proximity to other passengers.

How can passenger behavior contribute to post-flight sickness?

Not maintaining good hygiene, getting dehydrated and exposing oneself to high stress levels can increase the likelihood of post-flight sickness.

Do aging aircrafts pose higher risks of causing sickness?

Yes, reports have linked older aircraft fleets with increased risks of illness, likely due to their obsolete cabin designs and ventilation systems.

What can be done to prevent sickness after a flight?

Maintaining good hygiene, staying properly hydrated and minimizing stress can help prevent post-flight sickness. Additionally, being aware of your surroundings and taking necessary precautions can be beneficial.

What do experts say about the crowded flights and respiratory infections?

Experts like Dr. Richard Dawood and Otis Brawley have emphasized the impact of crowded flights on respiratory infections. They stress that the close proximity to others increases the potential for the spread of germs and hence, infections.