Want to Stay Healthy on Your Flight? Pick the Right Seat

Wendy Ellis, ND, Clinical Specialist
Wendy Ellis
ND, Clinical Specialist

There’s nothing worse than flying across the country for a relaxing family vacation or important business meeting only to wake up the next morning with your throat on fire and nose hopelessly stuffed.

Thankfully–as reported by NPR–researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology have one simple tip that could help minimize your risk of catching a bug as you fly: pick a window seat and try not to leave it.

The study

While exposure to viruses and bacteria is always a risk on flights, researchers concluded–in a study published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America–that people sitting next to the window are less likely to get sick because they are less likely to have contact with an infected individual. Unlike their fellow passengers, people in a window seat are less likely to get up and move about the cabin. They also have an extra buffer from potentially germ-ridden passengers moving up and down the aisle.

Researchers reached their conclusion by documenting the movement of passengers aboard 10 real transcontinental flights. They then modeled how viruses and bacteria spread through planes by creating “Fantasy Flights,” designating a sick passenger, and simulating the movement of everyone aboard the fake three to five-hour flight.

One of the study’s conclusions was that people seated next to a sick passenger, or in the rows in front of or behind them, had the greatest chance of getting sick themselves. Which, you have to admit, makes sense.

Thoughts from Arivale

Knowing how to best protect yourself from germs on planes is important. With the increasing amount of air travel and contact with people from other areas of the world, we are exposed to bacteria and viruses that we may have reduce immunity against. If we can reduce our exposures, we can reduce our risk of infection.

Here’s some actionable advice for flying from the Arivale team:

  • As per the study, avoid aisle seats.
  • If seated near a sick passenger, ask to move to a seat further away if possible.
  • Viruses and bacteria circulate through the air on planes, but they can also live for hours or even days on surfaces, so make sure you’re washing your hands.
  • But don’t stop there. As the water on planes can be suspect, use hand sanitizer in addition to washing, especially before eating, drinking, or touching your face.
  • Low vitamin D levels have been associated with a negative impact on immune health, so make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. (Arivale can help with this. Within six months of joining Arivale, 63 percent of members who had low levels of vitamin D moved into a healthy range!)
  • Make sure your immune system is ready for the challenge of air travel by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a balanced diet, and managing your stress.


It’s important to remember that this study was based on longer flights and may not hold true for shorter trips. Also keep in mind that different airlines have different disinfectant procedures, and in reality it’s hard to know if a sick passenger was actually exposed during a flight or just at the airport.