Last updated: 03:16 PM ET, Wed July 08 2015

Why Do We Always Catch a Cold on Longer Flights?

Impacting Travel | Patrick Clarke | July 08, 2015

Why Do We Always Catch a Cold on Longer Flights?

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Most people will catch a common cold virus multiple times over the course of a year, including while traveling in many cases. But according to experts via the Daily Mail, the length of a particular flight often times factors into whether a traveler will fall ill. 

"People think that germs are being circulated around the plane by the (air conditioning) but that isn't necessarily the case," said Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre Director Professor Ron Eccles via the Daily Mail. "We get colds when we are flying because there are three or four hundred people all squeezed in together in a small space. You can guarantee that some of those people will have colds and the germs are spread because of crowding."

The risk of infection, experiments have shown, grows exponentially with the length of the flight. But there are several other key factors at play as well.

"We also become dehydrated in planes and that leaves us more prone to the cold virus," Eccles added. "If you add in the fact that the stress of traveling lowers our immune system then you can see why people get colds while flying."

Obviously, viruses can be spread by touching the infected surfaces of objects like airplane seats and toilets. However Eccles notes that the proximity to other passengers, some of whom may have a cold, is ultimately why a traveler's chances of catching a cold often correlates to the length of the flight.

Essentially, the longer a traveler is in close proximity with a virus, the better their chance of catching it. " of the worst places to catch a summer cold is inside an airplane when we are crowded together," said Eccles.

Although surgical masks can prevent the spread of illness on a plane, Eccles pointed out that it won't prevent a traveler who's wearing one from coming down with a cold as the virus can still be picked up through the eyes, especially when they are dehydrated. 


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