The Best Seat on the Plane to Avoid Getting Sick

It is the recirculated air on commercial aircraft that’s responsible for travelers’ propensity to get sick when flying.

True or false?

False. It turns out that more germs are spread by human movement throughout the aircraft cabin than are spread by recirculated air.

That’s according to a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Behaviors, movements, and transmission of droplet-mediated respiratory diseases during transcontinental airline flights.”

That finding leads directly to a concrete recommendation: To minimize the chances of contracting an air-borne illness when flying, sit in a window seat, and remain there for the duration of the flight.

To put the fear of airborne germs into some perspective, the study notes that on a plane with 150 passengers, one of whom is contagiously sick, only one additional passenger is likely to be infected. And the passengers most likely to be infected are the 11 sitting closest to the sick person.

What to do if you find yourself sitting close to a visibly sick passenger? Your only option may be using the overhead air vents to blow the germs away from you.

Reader Reality Check

How much of a concern is getting sick when you travel?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.

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