Nearly Half of Travelers Fear This Common Myth About Airplanes That’s Actually Safe

Plane travelers can breathe easy knowing this one popular myth is totally false.

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If you’re embarking on a long trip, it’s natural to be a little nervous about the airplane ride. Even though flying is an incredibly safe mode of travel, fear of things like bad weather and turbulence can make the most stalwart of passengers feel apprehensive. However, 44 percent of American adults are nervous about one certain aspect of flying that is in fact completely harmless.

Honeywell, a major manufacturer of aerospace technology, recently surveyed around 2,300 Americans about their primary worries and beliefs related to flying. The results revealed that one of the most common misconceptions about air travel involves the air inside the plane. Nearly half of respondents—44 percent—believed that the recycled air in the cabins is loaded with germs and can make them sick.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Aircraft are equipped with HEPA filters (HEPA stands for “High Efficiency Particulate Air”), which stops germs in their tracks and keeps the air clean. According to the International Air Transport Association, the filters on airplanes are similar to the ones used in hospitals and are effective at trapping 99.99 percent of germs. Yup, that’s some clean air.

However, that doesn’t mean that there are no germs lurking in an aircraft cabin. While they may not be floating through the air, germs still tend to be present on many hard surfaces on planes—the bathroom door handle, the seatbelts, and the tray tables, to name a few—simply because so many people touch them. In fact, many harmful germs, like those that carry the common cold, are too heavy to float around in the air at all. Instead, they sink through the air and land on hard surfaces. This is why you should avoid eating off of your tray table. (Here are 17 more things you should never do on an airplane.)

All in all, your risk of getting sick on a plane is the same as that of getting sick in any other crowded space where you’re in close proximity to others. The recycled air isn’t swimming with germs. So don’t be afraid to breathe deep during your next trip through the skies. (Though you should probably avoid ordering coffee.)

Next, learn the truth about 11 airplane mysteries you’ve always wondered about.

[Sources: Travel & Leisure, aerospace.honeywell.com, International Air Transport Association]

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been storytelling since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. Her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine in spring 2017. Meghan is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.