How Not to Get Sick When Flying

January 27, 2019

in Flying Hell Commentary

From numerous times I’ve spent in airports and on airplanes (and over 20 years working in theme parks), here are the tips, tricks and tells I learned on how to avoid getting sick. Some parts are satire, but most is legit!

When in airports

Be alert at all times. If you hear someone coughing in the crowd, immediately identify them and make sure you keep other people between you and them. Human meat shields work well on infected projectiles like spit, snot and pus. Yes, people who spend $5,000+ on a vacation WILL still go even if they are coughing out pus from strep.

If someone within 3 persons range of you coughs, INSTANTLY hold your breath for as long as you can (ideally 20-30 seconds), exhale forcibly from your nostrils, then hold your breath a bit longer before finally breathing in again. This allows the germs to dissipate in the air; however, it comes with a risk. As you hold your breath, if another cough goes off, you have to reset your mental timer on how long to hold your breath again. If you can’t hold it for at least 20-30 more seconds past the first cough, move to the next prevention step:

Pocket sized hand sanitizer. Not for your hands, for your nostrils. Apply a dime sized drop to your inner palm, rub both hands together, and then, BEFORE the alcohol dries off, shove 2 wet fingers up your nose for 5 seconds. The alcohol kills any germs that may have made it into your nose before they can start to replicate, and leaves a bit of a protective film as well. Repeat as needed.

These are the basic motions of prevention that you should practice every day. Beyond that, it’s a lot like playing poker or photo hunt. Did you just see someone put a cough drop in their mouth? MAJOR red flag. Sore throat stage is the most contagious. They are a newborn cougher; AVOID!

You must be ready and willing to bulldozer past that cougher like a linebacker should the need arise! Coughers in particular tend to be very inconsiderate. They are out and about knowing full well they are not covering their mouths, and don’t care about making others sick either.

Coughers can also subconsciously detect healthy people trying to avoid them. When they detect you, chances are they will actively stalk you in the crowd. I think this is actually the virus messing with their heads to keep itself finding new hosts. I refer to it as “The Sicks Sense.” This just happened to me at the airport. Four hallways, 2 trams and 1 terminal later, I was STILL being stalked by a cougher! If I moved seats, so did he. If I stopped to get coffee, so did he. All the while, like a howitzer cannon on an Army joint ops training facility: COUGH! COUGH! aaaaaAAAA-COOOOOUUUUGH-AAAAAhhhh!!!

Remember the sound the Fire Swamp makes in The Princess Bride before it goes off? The cougher’s equivalent of that is the subtle throat clear. ALWAYS be listening for this! If you hear one churn up, the howitzer cough is seconds away; RUN!!!

Someone have tissues sticking out of their jacket pocket? DIVERT DIVERT!!! A full-on, sprinkler sized shotgun blast of a sneeze is almost certain to come out of that cougher at any moment. Let someone else take the brunt and snot shrapnel of the explosion. If you can’t regulate your breathing as mentioned above, pick up the cougher’s kid and hold it between you and the cougher; it works. It’s never an easy choice, but there are casualties in any war, ESPECIALLY the war on illness!

They know what makes you afraid. They can smell your terror despite their stuffy, running nose. They will find you, and they will cough on you!

Public shaming is another tool to fall back on. If someone coughs near you, immediately shout “COUGHERRRRR!!!!” as loud as you can while giving them a dirty look, and running away as though they were chasing you and you are an extra on the set of The Walking Dead. When a virus is called out it tends to hide back inside its cougher’s host body, giving you vital time to escape, and keeping others around you safe should they choose to heed your warning.

When flying

Board last on your boarding zone. If you don’t, you will be surrounded by coughers in the jet bridge. Consider the jet bridge to be a biohazard area and plan appropriately. Know your emergency door locations in the jetbridge should you need to bail. A broken ankle beats a flu any day.

Take an Airborne every 4 hours the day you fly. That stuff truly works miracles in both prevention, or while sick. If you get sick, the same 4 hour rule applies and will speed up your recovery.

Always take the back row seat regardless of your status. Only accept free first class upgrades if they can guarantee you Row 5. Reason being, no one can cough on you from behind in those rows. To select any other row on the plane is to guarantee you a cougher will be placed directly behind you!

Turn off your air vent, or point it in the direction of the nearest cougher. It serves as an air shield of sorts, but DONT point it at yourself!

If a cougher is in the row in front of you, you MUST stay awake the entire flight! The reason being, they will probably fall asleep during the flight from their cold medicine. When that happens, their heads will slump to the right side, and land just far enough between the seat and window to where they are now able to cough directly on you. Lightly splash them on the forehead with your free inflight beverage until they wake up; they will readjust from there, but STAY VIGILANT! Repeat sleeping cougher attacks can and do happen.

If you are in the back row and the person directly next to you is a cougher, well my friend I’m afraid it was just your time. You can take the opportunity to practice the breathing and sanitizing, but it takes decades of practice to survive a 2+ hour flight unscathed next to a cougher. Should you succeed, you will still be mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted from the prevention efforts.

Always exit the plane last, and by last I mean wait until the entire exit aisle is empty. Leaving a plane with people waiting in line to disembark is one of the most risky moves to make. You will end up sandwiched between two coughers, and nothing can be done. It’s like the jet bridge theory, but even smaller spaces and slower moving coughers.

Remember your breathing as the rudimentary exercise. Hold your breath as long as possible, exhale sharply, hold again, breathe shallow until clear of the cougher. Visibly sanitize your hands in shame while glaring at the cougher. Don’t forget wet fingers up the nose; it’s a crucial step!

How to properly prepare your inflight Airborne doses:

  • There is a lot of science involved with this. When the flight attendants come to take your drink order, call for an orange juice with no ice. Ask for the whole can if possible, but for the purposes of this demonstration we will assume the smallest size of plastic cup will be provided.
  • Carefully sip the top inch of OJ to make room for the Airborne.
  • Break the airborne into four quarters. This allows you to dissolve them one at a time, without overflowing the cup. Allow 8 minutes per quarter tab, as it dissolves slower in the pressurized cabin.
  • Chug when ready!

Keeping your hand sanitizer visible on the seat tray, while also visibly sanitizing anytime someone next to you coughs, can help to deter the cougher through shaming. It may take 3 or more dirty looks at them with your fingers up your nose, but eventually even the jerkiest of people feel bad seeing you like that.

Hope this helps to inspire folks; prevention and early detection are key. If you are sick, STAY HOME!!!

Safe travels my flu-laden friends!

– Derrick Rottler

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

prp January 30, 2019 at 4:59 pm

I'm speechless…………


Gregg - admin January 30, 2019 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for sharing your sanitation tips Derrick. I'd like to add one more tip: Bring sanitizing wipes to disinfect the tray table. Our site has stories about passengers changing baby diapers on trays, such as this one:


Sneezy McSneezer February 26, 2019 at 6:32 pm

Wasn't Airborne proven to NOT work as described, and the company sued? Hmmmmm…..
I suffer chronic upper respiratory ailments and frequently sneeze. Can't help it. Also, my nose decides to run when I eat, when I'm stressed, when I exercise, or whenever it feels like it. I promise I sneeze inside my shirt or use my scarf to block it best I can.
One thing I can promise you- if I put hand sanitizer up my nose as described, I'm going to sneeze my head off.


Krista March 21, 2019 at 9:55 pm

A couple holes in your plan. Germs will be breathed in before you can say hand sanitizer. If the toilet is in the back of the plane you don't want to sit there because everyone will walk by you to go to the toilet or to stretch their legs. You are better off at the very front next to the window, where no body is sitting in front of you. If the toilet is at the front sure sit in the back. If a larger plane and there are toilets in front and back either sit in the middle or front.

Go to Goodwill and get a cheap hoodie. Wear it with the hood up to protect from coughers behind you. Throw it away as soon as you get out of the airport but don't use a shoulder strap until it is off.

Wear a scarf and use it to cover your mouth and nose anytime walking down the aisle. Or when near a cougher.

Be a cougher too. People will avoid you. Hope it won't back fire because misery loves company.


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