Where to Sit on an Airplane to Avoid Getting Sick

Another reason why the window seat is the best seat on the plane.

Window or aisle?

One of the most important decisions you can make before your flight is not only figuring out where to go and when, but also where to sit on the plane. If it’s important for you to stand up often and stretch during the flight, then maybe the aisle seat would be best. If you’re stuck in the middle seat, then you can take comfort in knowing the proper etiquette rules allow you to have both armrests. If you select the window seat, then you can take look out the window at the scenery passing by below you.

On your journey, you could even contemplate why some airplane windows have little holes. All of these seats have great options for different reasons. If you do decide to sit in the window seat, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s the best seat on the plane to avoid getting sick.

The best seat on the plane… For health reasons

Recirculated air throughout the cabin isn’t the culprit for people getting sick on planes. Turns out, germs are spread by people moving about the plane. In a 2018 study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research showed that for people sitting in aisle seats, the average number of contacts is largest, followed by middle seats, and is the lowest in window seats. This news is even better if you happen to be lucky enough to find yourself in a window seat with no seatmates next to you. So, next time you’re looking to avoid germs, booking the window seat might be the way to go. Staying hydrated, taking an immune system booster, and avoiding caffeine are just a few things flight attendants do to never get sick.

“With over 3 billion airline passengers annually, the inflight transmission of infectious diseases is an important global health concern,” the study reads. “Over a dozen cases of inflight transmission of serious infections have been documented, and air travel can serve as a conduit for the rapid spread of newly emerging infections and pandemics. Despite sensational media stories, risks of transmission of respiratory viruses in an airplane cabin are unknown. Movements of passengers and crew may facilitate disease transmission.”

If you’re sick, it’s a good idea to wear a face mask. “When you cough or sneeze, you’re ejecting fine particles,” Vicki Hertzberg, an Emory University biostatistician who, with scientists at Boeing, conducted the study, tells NPR. “Other people near you can inhale them. They can get them on their hands. They can land on their tray tables.”

However, is there a seat that trumps the window seat? Yes, and that’s a seat as far away from a contaminated person as possible. “Though really, the best place to sit is away from any passenger who’s coughing or sneezing. There was a perimeter around the person with increased risk,” Hertzberg tells NPR. “Everywhere else, the risk of getting sick was minimal.” No matter where you sit, think twice before touching the air vents above your seat, which are arguably the germiest spot on the plane. (Here’s more airplane trivia you’ve always been curious about.)

What if someone is sick on a plane?

To manage passengers with influenza-like symptoms, the World Health Organization recommends that “persons on board who may be suffering from a communicable disease, especially if they have influenza-like signs and symptoms, should receive immediate attention.” It’s important to wash your hands—after all, here are 14 diseases you can prevent just by washing your hands.

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