How to avoid getting sick on a Plane

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You wait for your vacation, counting the days, only to spend the first three days sick in bed. Its horrible and you feel like it ruins your entire vacation. There are many things that can make you sick, from the lack of sleep counting down the days to the vacation, to the stress of finishing your work before you go on your trip – sometimes it is only adrenaline keeping the illness at bay. However, one major source of illness that not everyone realizes is the airport and the airplane itself.

Germs are a part of daily life, but most of those you will encounter you will already have developed an immunity against. It is only when a new germ shows up that you get sick, and that’s why (most) people only get sick a handful of times per year. However, people at airports aren’t just bringing their luggage, they also bring their own micro flora of germs to travel with them – and just because they have their own immunity, doesn’t mean you do. Additionally, lots of people are travelling for lengthy periods of times, staying in the same clothes, and not showering for days. This means your chance of getting sick at an airport is significantly increased, and you’d be well advised to take extra precautions.

Assume everything is dirty. Tables, chairs, doors – these have all been touched by people from everywhere. Even if you assume everyone washed their hands after using the washroom (a dubious assumption at best), you can’t assume they didn’t scratch an under arm itch, or touch some other germ ridden area. Their hands then come in contact with things that you later use, and you are open to infection. This is even more true on the airplane, where they have limited time to switch between passengers, and so the cleanup will necessarily be limited. One of the worst offenders is the tray table where they will place your food, people sometimes use that when changing diapers – never let anything that you eat directly touch that tray. Wet wipes can help and are generally allowed on planes.

Since you have to keep your baggage in sight at all times, if you do have to use the washroom at an airport, you’ll have to handle it with your dirty hands from the stall to the sink – everyone else has to do that to (as I said, assume EVERYTHING is dirty). Wash your hands, and if they have the hand sanitizer, rub some on the handles of your bags and belt. Take every opportunity you can to wash your hands, and it is extra important to wash up before eating.

On any intercontinental plane, you will have hundreds of passengers, and, unfortunately, some of them will be sick. You are then jammed into a small area with them, seated like sardines, for many hours, breathing the same recycled air. Your best bet in this case is to turn on the overhead fan at maximum strength, and place it directly over your face – the plane has an internal filter that will help reduce the amount of germs you breathe in. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it helps significantly.

If you can avoid it, don’t use the airplane bathroom. Those are small washrooms, not cleaned regularly between visitors, and turbulence is a thing. Toilets flushing cause enough germs to circulate, I can’t imagine how bad an airplane bathroom is on a plane. If you have to use it, wet wipes are again your friend.

Don’t order ice in your drinks. The ice machine on planes is the low man on the totem pole when it comes to maintenance and cleaning, so, you really don’t want to risk the extra bacteria just so that your pop is a bit colder.

Flights to Brazil – the basics.

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One of the biggest impediments to travel is, of course, the cost. Flying will likely be your highest expense on the trip, as prices in Brazil are very low after the exchange rate (currently, the Brazilian Real is trading just under 3:1 with the Canadian dollar).

However, finding the right flights can be a very difficult proposition. Luckily (unluckily), Canadians are used to searching for cheap flights because local travel is so expensive as well, and most of the same tricks work well for booking travel to Brazil. I, myself, am still finding new methods for securing the best flight, but here are some basic tricks I’ve found so far:

1. Clear your browser history before starting your search – travel websites can significantly increase the prices if you have searched for flights before, or if their algorithms think you have. I actually have a dedicated browser that I use just for booking travel.

2. Check out yyzdeals.com or yycdeals.com or any of the cheap flight websites from Chris Myden – Chris keeps a blog of pricing mistakes by airlines, and sends out alerts. His websites are great for finding deals when you don’t care where/when you are flying, and Brazil is sometimes one of the destinations he finds – three days ago he posted flights for $561 (taxes included) Round-trip from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro, so it is well worth your time to check out his website.

3. Create travel alerts using Google Flights – Google flights has tended to be the cheapest way to find flights for me when I book travel. It will also show you the prices for days surrounding your specific flight date, and you can set it up to email you when prices change. Even once you find a good price this way, still search around, as the prices across various websites tend to drop at the same time. Statistics generally show that flights will be cheapest six weeks before your trip, but you’ll want to create a travel alert ahead of time, just in case.

4. When selecting a flight, make sure that the layover is long enough to get through customs. If you are travelling through Pearson airport in Toronto, then there is pre-clearance in Canada for any US layover, but coming back a layover of 90 minutes isn’t very long to get through customs, security, and to your next flight. Airlines are rarely forgiving of missed connections. This is even more true if you book the tickets separately (which is sometimes recommended by Google as the cheapest option). If you do end up with a long customs line and a short connection, flag down airport staff to help you.

5. Make sure you don’t have to change airports in a foreign city. Changing just the terminal in an airport can sometimes be a worrisome experience involving shuttle-bus travel, unclear instructions in another language, and feeling like you have left the airport. But in those cases at least airport staff are generally recognizable, are the most likely to speak English, and will almost always be available throughout your trip between terminals to help. However, some flights suggested by google might include changing airports, which can be expensive, and lead to lengthy delays, and create unexpected headaches. I would never recommend those.

Cabin Baggage for the Professional Traveler

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The most important part of flying comfortably is to pack correctly – you want to have one carry on bag, that is almost exclusively used for items you will/may need on the plane itself. I say almost exclusively because lost luggage does happen, and its good to have clothes for your first day with you, so that you can still go out before they get your bag returned. You’ll want the following items:

1. Paperwork – Passport, Visa, any other paperwork you need at any point in your flight shouldn’t ever leave your side. The same is true for your travel insurance paperwork, which could be needed at any point in your travels.

2. Cellphone – download the airline’s app, as well as a few shows on Netflix/other streaming service, and music/podcasts. You can’t always download these when in flight, and the airport’s WiFi is always a bit tricky. Bring charging cables with USB end, and an adapter for USB/North American (most airplanes have both outlets, but my experience has been that one is always out of order). Ideally you’d also bring a Brazilian/North American adapter, but those are expensive in Canada, and are better purchased in Brazil.

3. Cellphone Charging block – this is your backup in case both outlets are broken. Most I find can’t keep up with the battery drain from heavy use, but even so, it will significantly extend your battery.

4. Cell phone stand – a lot of airlines have gone to providing in-flight entertainment through personal cellphones. It makes sense, because they don’t have to pay to maintain the hardware, but it can be uncomfortable for long flights. You want a dedicated cellphone stand, that raises your phone up slightly – this way you don’t have to have your neck bent down at an extreme angle for the whole flight. You don’t want it too high, as that risks the phone falling and breaking, but a small distance makes a world of difference.

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This is the cell phone stand I use

4a. Laptop – personally I find that a laptop is a bit cumbersome on the plane, and I actually prefer to watch shows on my cellphone with the stand, because the seats put you so close to the laptop, but to each their own.

5. Headphones – ideally, you’ll have two sets. One earbud style, which is useful for those airlines that only allow this style during takeoff and landing. The other ones you want are Active Noise Cancelling, Over-Ear style. These can be found for less than $100 on Amazon, and are well worth the money. Its a risky purchase online, because youtube videos don’t do them justice, but the trick is to search for 3 star reviews where the complaint isn’t something that bothers you. You don’t need the expensive ones that cancel out all noise, as long as the low-beat of the airplane engines is drowned out, you’ll be able to actually enjoy in-flight entertainment, and sleep much better. These have completely revolutionized flying for me.

6. Candy – If you have trouble sleeping on the flight, a big sugar rush right after the in-flight meal will lead to a sugar crash and may help you nod off to sleep. Having a beer before/on the flight helps with this too.

7. Cash/Card – not everywhere will take card, and not everywhere will take cash – bring both, so you can buy something if you need.

8. Gum – if you have problems with the takeoff and landing, gum can help, although I prefer to just hold my nose and swallow to equalize pressure to avoid the headaches.

9. Medicines – if you need to take them, obviously bring them with you.

10. Wet Wipes – everything is dirty on a plane, and you don’t want to get sick.

You don’t want to bring much more than this with you on the flight, because if the flight is packed, you might have to put your bag under the seat in front of you, and a full bag will take away the precious little leg space you have. Additionally, you’ll want space in your bag for Duty Free purchases.