Cabin Fever: Five Carry-On Essentials

In the age of deadly viruses like SARS and coronavirus, travel hygiene is more important than ever. Here are five carry-on essentials to consider packing next time you fly. 

Hands up if you’re one of those frequent flyers whose safety routine goes well beyond buckling your seat belt and taking note of the nearest exit.

You know the drill; you wipe down the tray table, turn off the air vent and don a face mask before you’ve even stowed your hand luggage.

Staying healthy when flying has always been a top priority for travellers, but there’s been increased attention in recent weeks following the worrying spread of the mystery coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

Planes and airports pose a unique risk because they are covered in germs and it’s an easy environment to get sick. It’s also very difficult to get away from a fellow passenger who’s coughing or sneezing the whole trip.

But despite what many of us might think, modern aircraft are not teeming with germs.

Today’s long-distance aircraft, such as the modern Airbus A-380s or the new Boeing 787-Dreamliner, have sophisticated air filters that help reduce microscopic viruses and bacteria.

Usually about 50 per cent of the air is re-circulated, and as this happens, it passes through very special air filters, that remove dust, vapours, bacteria mould – even skin flakes.

The common cold is 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than on the ground.

The most common way for you to get sick when flying is by touching a contaminated surface, then transferring the germ to your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Up to 80 per cent of viruses – and that includes coronavirus – are said to be transmitted when your hands touch infected surfaces like a handrail, self check-in machine and even the tray table in your plane seat.

The simple truth is, when you travel you’re around people from many different countries. It’s highly likely that you’ll be exposed to strains of a virus that your body hasn’t come into contact with before.

Before you know it, you’ve got a headache and fever, even gastro or the flu. (Let’s not even talk about the hazards of jet lag, dehydration or deep vein thrombosis at this point.

An obvious high-risk area for germs is the bathroom.

The Wall Street Journal cited a study that found flying increased your chances of catching a cold by as much as 20 per cent, while another study in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that the common cold may be more than 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than on the ground.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your air vent on, but positioned slightly away from your face.

This will also assist in blowing away any airborne nasties that may be coming your way, including droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes.

Recent reports also suggest the window seat is the best defence against germs. While that might be true, it’s also one of the coldest seats in the plane, which can also make you ill on a long-haul flight.

I stopped choosing the window seat on long haul flights many years ago when I discovered I was exposing my body to a constant stream of cold air from the air vents, which lowered my natural defences.

An obvious high-risk area for germs is the bathroom. With door handles and flush buttons being touched by multiple passengers on any given flight, the potential for coming into contact with, and spreading, harmful pathogens is high.

Doctors say if you wash frequently and use disinfectant wipes on a plane, you improve your chances of staying germ free.

But if you consider yourself a real ‘germ-a-phobe’ – and I’ve got to admit I tend to fall into this category – then here are five carry-on essentials you should never travel without.

Carry On Essentials

Sanitary Wipes 

Scientists suggest the viruses that cause colds and flu can survive for hours on your skin or on objects such as tray tables, armrests, remote control handsets and similar surfaces.

That’s why I always travel with a packet of Dettol Antibacterial Hand & Surface Wipes (pictured) or a similar brand like Wet Ones.24178_xlarge

Not only are they ideal for sanitising your immediate surroundings when flying, but they’re also great way to freshen up when you’re skin feels dry or dehydrated.

You’ll give yourself the best chance of staying germ-free by frequently wiping your hands and avoiding contact with your eyes, nose and mouth.

Saline Nasal Spray 

Because the humidity drops significantly inside an airplane (under 20 per cent), your skin can dry out quickly, including on the inside of your nose. A dry nose can lead to a dry throat, which in turn makes you sick.

Hot drinks are a good way to keep your protective mucous membranes working, but a saline nasal spray like Fess for frequent flyers (pictured) is also a must-have on long haul flights.9317039000422_Bottle-and-Carton_A1R1

Fess is a non-medicated Saline Spray that includes moisturisers as well as tea Tree Oil and Xylitol. This all helps guard against airborne bacteria while flushing away pollutants.

We would probably all feel better if the humidity at 30,000 feet was 35 per cent (that’s what it is in a comfortable home environment). But increasing humidity can also encourage growth of bacteria and fungi, especially in the aircraft water tanks; that’s why airlines refuse to do so.

Eye Drops 

Murine-Eye-Mist1After 14 hours in recycled air conditioning your eyes become dry and irritated.

It can be even worse if you’ve knocked back a few alcoholic beverages in that time as well.

Using eye drops or an eye mist will provide immediate relief, hydrating and restoring the natural tear film.

Murine Eye Mist is ideal when travelling because it contains liposomes to lubricate and stabilise the tear film layer in your eyes.

Face Mask 

Airborne germs are one of the top two sources of colds and virus infections, so you might want to consider a face mask when flying.

Generally, a face mask should only be worn by someone who has symptoms of a respiratory illness.


If you are already sick or coughing and sneezing before your flight, or seated near someone who is, it’s probably a good idea to wear a face mask to cover your nose and mouth.

The N95 mask (pictured) is the highest level mask that protects against most pathogens, including coronavirus.

The Pitta mask is also popular with travellers, although it’s really to prevent dust and pollen, and may not be as effective at blocking out droplets that can cause viruses.

Like paper surgical masks, they really only protect other people against your germs. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Bottled Water 

Drinking plenty of water will counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more.

But good old H2O also helps your natural immune system function better.

Always carry bottled water, or ask the cabin crew for bottled water, particularly on flights originating from places with poor hygiene.Unknown

Many experienced cabin crew never drink the tap water on an airplane for the simple fact that it can be pretty dirty, as this story highlights.

While the water tanks do get cleaned on aircraft, it’s hard to know how often that occurs. So play it safe, stick to bottled water, and bottled drinks from the cart. As far as tea and coffee – that’s up to you.

Many of the products mentioned above can be bought at airport stores, but it’s often cheaper and easier to buy them before you travel.

If you’re in Australia, try a pharmacy that specialises in travel accessories.

There are no doubt plenty of other products you might want to pack for good health and hygiene while flying.

Headache tablets, cough drops and compression socks are probably other must-haves when you’re flying between multiple time zones.

Above all else, and even if you’re blasé about the risk of getting sick, the key to good health for you – and those around you – is remembering to frequently wash your hands, and not eating, drinking or touching your face until you’ve scrubbed up.

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Updated March 2020 following the coronavirus outbreak.
© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved


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