Aircraft cabin air is well known for giving passengers problems. Some studies estimate that up to 20 percent of passengers on commercial airplanes will develop respiratory infections within a week of flying.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH AIRCRAFT CABIN AIR?
Airline cabin air is recycled, however older aircraft tend to filter air and mix in part fresh air before recirculating it in the cabin and as a result are much less likely to have good quality air filters on board. Newer aeroplanes tend to use almost all recirculated air by using high-quality HEPA filters. These filters can reportedly clean-up to 99.99% of bacteria out of the air. During long- haul trips you're even more exposed as the air on a plane circulates in sections.
Airline cabin air is extremely low in humidity and can dry the mucous membranes of your nose, mouth, throat and bronchial tree (or breathing tubes), which are then less able to keep out viruses and bacteria. Your eyes may become dry and uncomfortable as well. Airline cabin air is low in oxygen relative to fresh air on the ground. Healthy individuals shouldn’t notice any difference but those with chronic lung conditions might.
High altitude flights draw in air that contains high levels of ozone although most big airliners that fly longer routes are equipped with ozone converters that decompose this air, but this may not be the case with planes designed for shorter flights.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
When a person has a viral infection, they generate a cloud of virus in the air around them through coughs or sneezes or simply by exhaling. When they land on your mucus membranes in your nose and throat you are likely to contract an infection.
Open-mouth breathing on planes will increase your risk of breathing in airborne germs and catching nasty viruses while nasal breathing filters, warms and humidifies the air passing through your nasal passages, which is better for your lungs.
If you intend sleeping during your flight you may need assistance to make sure you don’t start breathing through your mouth, which will increase your chances of snoring and cause you to wake up with a dry mouth, dry lips and dry throat. And perhaps a fellow passenger’s bugs.
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Updated February 15th 2020
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