Forget snakes on a plane. Worry about the germs. Research shows that air travelers are at a higher risk for infection than people going about their daily lives.

Just how are illnesses spread on a plane? It comes down to two main factors: Airborne germs that are easily inhaled by people sitting in close quarters, or contact with germ-riddled surfaces on the plane. These factors are exacerbated by the dry conditions typical of airplanes, because viruses prefer low-humidity environments.

The good news is that, for the most part, airplanes' air filtration systems function well enough that you're unlikely to contract more serious illnesses. Instead, your greatest risk is contracting the common cold or a classic case of the flu.

While that's all well and good, it may be little comfort to people who don't particularly want to have a cold or the flu while trying to enjoy their vacation. Luckily, it is possible to decrease your risk of infection from germs on a plane. Here's how to maximize the chances of disembarking the plane as healthy as you boarded it.

Don't travel if you're already sick

If you know that you're suffering from a contagious illness, do your immune system (and your fellow passengers) a favor and don't expose yourself to any more germs by boarding a plane. In particular, the CDC advises that people avoid plane travel if you're more than 36 weeks pregnant, have recently had surgery, have had a recent (serious) injury, or have a fever. In each of these cases, you'll be traveling with a compromised immune system, which increases your risk of catching a contagious infection. Some airlines may be lenient with rescheduling fees if you can prove that you're sick; contact the airline to discuss your options.

Germs suck. Here is how to avoid getting sick on airplanes.

Ask to switch seats

If you find yourself beside someone who's hacking or sniffling, it's okay (really!) to ask a flight attendant if it's possible to switch seats. Even moving just a few rows away can help protect you from a sick person's germs. If there are no other seats on the plane, donning a face mask might help.

Wipe down germy surfaces

Tray tables, armrests, and seat-back pockets are consistently found to be some of thegermiest parts of a plane. Minimize contact with these germs by using wet wipes to disinfect tray tables, armrests, and seat-back pockets and/or using hand sanitizer after touching any of these surfaces.

Wash your hands (a lot)

For the most part, your hands are your body's primary point of contact with germy surfaces. Those germs (including cold and flu viruses) can survive on your skin for hours. The simple fix? Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or (in a pinch) with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Keep air vents open.

Circulating air is key to preventing the spread of illness on a plane, so keep the air vent above you open. And don't worry—the air pumping through the vent is filtered and safe to breathe.

Bring your own blanket and pillow

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that airlines tend to wash their blankets and pillows only every 5 to 30 days. (Yes, you read that right.) This means that when you borrow a blanket from the airline, you're sharing a whole lot of germs. Avoid the issue entirely by bringing along your own travel blanket and pillow.

Close the toilet seat before you flush

The spray that accompanies flushing spreads germs throughout the airplane bathroom; closing the lid before you flush will help you avoid contact with these nasty microorganisms. The flusher itself is also a hotbed of germs, so put a paper towel in between your hand and the flusher whenever you flush. And of course, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the loo.

Popping pills sucks. Here is how to avoid getting sick on airplanes.

Stay hydrated

The high elevations and low humidity typical of airplane travel have a dehydrating effect, which can provoke headaches, stomach problems, cramps, and fatigue, and diminish your immune system's ability to fight off infections. The simple solution? Stay hydrated by regularly sipping water before, during, and after your flight. It's also a good idea to avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can contribute to dehydration.

There are a few caveats to this point, however. It's best to avoid drinking the tap water available on airplanes, because airplane tap water has consistently been found to contain levels of bacteria well above U.S. government limits. Opt for bottled water instead. For a similar reason, be sure to ask for drinks sans ice—since many planes refill their ice tanks at foreign airports, the water standards may not be up to par with what you're used to.

Moisturize your nasal membranes

Cabin air tends to dry out our nasal membranes, which are the immune system's main line of defense against incoming germs. Keep your immune system functioning at optimal capacity by using a nasal mist or saline nasal spray during the flight.

While all the immune-boosting strategies in the world can't guarantee your health with absolute certainty, practicing these behaviors on every flight will give you the best chance of making it through a plane ride with your immune system unscathed.

  This post was originally published on Hipmunk's Tailwind Blog on January 22nd, 2016.

Published in Travel Tips

Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) recently rolled out a Boeing 787 airplane painted from tip to tail with the likeness of Star Wars’ R2-D2. The airplane will carry its first lucky passengers beginning Oct. 18 with a flight between Tokyo and Vancouver, Canada. The project is part of a five-year promotional deal between ANA and the Walt Disney Company.

This is hardly the first time an airline has made headlines for dolling up its planes. These designs are typically part of publicity partnerships or are created to promote special events or anniversaries. Check out some of the wackiest paint jobs in airline history, below.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.58.54 PM
Photo: Flickr user Mark Harkin

Hobbit Plane, Air New Zealand

First on the list is the world’s largest plane decal, which reportedly took more than 400 hours to complete before it was released into the air in 2012. The Lord of the Rings-themed plane didn’t stop at the paint job. Inside, a hobbit-themed safety video featured characters from Middle Earth, while the cabin crew adorned themselves with pointy ears for the plane’s first flight.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.59.00 PM
Photo: Flickr user Aero Icarus

San Francisco Plane, Swiss International Airlines

In 2010, Swiss International instated daily flights between Zurich and San Francisco. To celebrate the new route, the airline decorated a plane with just about every San Francisco stereotype around, from peace signs to flower power.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.59.25 PM
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Flickr user Cubbie_n_vegas

Salmon, Alaska Airlines

Get it? A Boeing 737 becomes a Boeing salmon-thirty-salmon in this 2005 fish-themed paint job. The inspiration for the artwork is a bit unclear: Some sources claim it was designed to celebrate Alaska’s seafood industry, while others believe it stemmed from a 1987 incident in which an Alaska Airlines plane was hit by a fish while taking off in Juneau (The fish was purportedly dropped by an eagle).

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.59.31 PM

Aboriginal Design, Qantas

A collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists, the design for this Boeing 737-800 was inspired by Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. The Australian World Heritage site is famous for its rich colors, which appear to change as the sun’s angle shifts throughout the day.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.59.37 PM
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Wizarding World Plane, Virgin Atlantic Airways

What a magical idea. In partnership with Virgin Holidays, Virgin Atlantic branded one of its 747 jets with the logo for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The paint job functioned as publicity for the Universal Orlando resort.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.58.39 PM
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Panda Jet, All Nippon Airways

To celebrate 20 years of flying between Japan and China, ANA unveiled its panda-themed jet in 2007. It reportedly took 350 people a total of 80 hours to plaster the image of the world’s cutest bear onto the jet.

Whether you’re flying to Tokyo, Vancouver, or anywhere in between, may the force (and sweet paint jobs) always be with you.

  This article was published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 18th.

Published in Travel Inspiration

Airplane cabins aren’t always known for being roomy, comfy, or luxurious, but the newest crop of first class suites are stunning travelers with their size and opulence. New Yorkers who get by in tiny 100 square foot apartments and Londoners who would pay $145,000 for a shoe box next to Harrod’s may consider moving in when they see how gorgeous and extravagantly large the new cabins seem by comparison. Here’s a roundup of the best and biggest first class cabins that money (or airline miles) can buy.

First class flight on Etihad Airways
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Travelarz

Etihad Airways: The Residence

In December 2014, Etihad Airways introduced The Residence on its Airbus A380 planes. The three room suite is a whopping 125 square feet and can be occupied by up to two people traveling together. It includes a living room, a private bathroom, and a bedroom with a bed large enough to share. Etihad hasn’t skimped on the amenities either: It comes with a 32-inch television, a cabinet for chilled drinks, and Christian Lacroix pajamas. The leather on the seats is made by Poltrona Frau, which also makes leather seats for Ferrari and Maserati.

The suite also comes with exceptional service. It includes a luxury chauffeur for transportation to and from the airport, and a Savoy Academy-trained personal butler to meet you and the airport and anticipate your every need. The Residence is available on A380 planes between London and Abu Dhabi, and soon to New York and Sydney, Australia as well. A ticket in The Residence can cost about $20,000 one way. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to travel like an oil magnate or a Russian oligarch, this is the way to go.

First class flight on a 747
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78

Singapore Airlines: Suite Class

The Singapore Airlines Suites may only feature one room rather than three, but it’s certainly not much of a step down. Running about $18,000 each way, the Suites were introduced in 2007 and are available only on the Airbus A380. Flights are offered from Singapore to 14 destinations, including New York, London, and Hong Kong, so there’s plenty of opportunity to experience the best of Singapore Airlines.

The cabins are the work of luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, and feature a 35-inch wide bed and a 78-inch long bed with cabin doors that can be shut completely. When your partner is in the adjacent cabin, the wall removes so that a double bed can be folded down for some in-flight pillow talk. Each Suite also features a 23-inch LCD screen, Bose headphones, a Ferragamo amenity kit, and Givenchy sleepwear. To complete the perfect in-flight experience, the Book the Cook service allows passengers to order their meals before the flight and choose between Michelin-starred chefs Georges Blanc and Carlo Cracco, among others.

Emirates Airways Business Class lounge
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78

Emirates Airlines: First Class Suites

At around $13,000 one way, the Emirates First Class suites are a bargain compared to the options above, and their most famous feature will seem like a dream come true: an in-flight shower. In a huge improvement on showering over a toilet in your London apartment, each Suites passenger gets 30 minutes in the spa suite with five minutes of hot water conveniently monitored by a light timer. There are two shower spas for the 14 privates suites on each Airbus A380 flight, and the bathrooms also features heated floors and designer towels and toiletries. Imagine being able to freshen up at the end of a long flight, enjoy a shave or a steam, and arrive at your final destination feeling impossibly calm and collected. Now that’s luxurious.

Of course, the cabins in First Class Suites are lovely as well. The seats, which are tablet-operated, fold down to 79-inch beds, and there’s an on-board bar where passengers can mingle with business class passengers over a drink. The cabins also have remote-controlled sliding doors and 23 inch LCD screens for entertainment. Emirates offers chauffeur service to and from the airports in over 70 cities, and flights on the A380 available to over 35 destinations. Maybe it’s time to let go of your lease and take to the skies for luxury and comfort next year.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on Jnuary 18th.

Published in Travel Inspiration

Emirates Airline recently announced the creation of the world’s longest direct flight, a daunting 17.5 hour trip that will fly from Dubai to Panama City starting February 1st. That long flight time might sound daunting, especially when seated in economy. But a little effort and attention can go a long way in taking a flight from unbearable to relaxing, whether travelers are braving the new route from Dubai to Panama City, or just looking to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight more comfortable. Here’s a step by step guide for making the most of a long plane trip.

Airplane window seats

Step 1: Choosing a Seat

First of all, try to avoid economy if at all possible. The seats, the food, and the amenities will all improve, as will the enjoyment factor of the trip. If booking a ticket in first class or business class just isn’t budget-friendly, consider using miles to upgrade. To make the next trip easier and start earning miles for the future, enroll in the airline’s frequent flier program or search out credit cards with airline-redeemable points.

If economy is unavoidable, however, the seat can make all the difference. There are a wide variety of websites where travelers can view seating plans based on flights and carriers, such as SeatGuru, SeatExpert, SeatMaestro, and SeatPlans. Think carefully about what type of seat you want. No one likes the middle seat of course, but also there are other things to keep in mind as well.. Certain travelers may prefer the aisle seat if they like to get up and stretch or use the bathroom frequently, whereas the window seat may be preferable for those trying to sleep on night time flights. To avoid engine noise, try to stay close to the front of the plane.

There may even be some possible seating improvements at the airport itself. Check with the desk attendant at the gate to see if there’s an empty row or set of seats on the plane that could provide more stretching room. Be sure to scope out the seats on the plane itself as well in case someone has missed their flight and there’s a better seat open.

Comfortable sleeping on an airplane with a window seat

Step 2: Packing the Carry-on

Think of a carry-on bag as the toolbox for hacking a long flight. Packing smart can elevate a trip from boring and uncomfortable to productive and relaxing. Here’s a checklist for the essentials.

  • Before leaving, make sure all devices are charged and loaded with movies, books, and music. It’s best not to rely on a functioning entertainment system on board the plane.
  • Pack things that will help with sleep, such as an eye mask, ear plugs, or sleeping pills. Think twice about cumbersome items like neck pillows unless they’re inflatable.
  • For snacks, bring foods that are high in protein and fiber, since those are often lacking in airline meals. It’s also helpful to treat yourself to something nice on a long flight, so
  • A blanket and a good pair of socks to wear instead of shoes on the plane will make the trip much more comfortable.
  • For the all-important TSA liquid allowance, bring the essentials to stay moisturized and hydrated, such as a facial spritz, moisturizer, lip balm, and nasal spray.
  • Hand sanitizer is also a must on flights to kill bacteria and prevent colds that might be picked up from seatmates.
  • Deodorant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush can also refresh and revitalize travelers on a long journey.

Fully booked airplane

Step 3: Settling In

First things first: do some seat-side carry-on rearranging. Take out the essentials (headphones, liquids, reading material or devices, socks) and put them in a smaller tote bag or nylon bag to put under the seat. Leave the rest in the carry-on and stow it away. This will allow for much more legroom and better sleep, and the rest of the supplies will still be accessible once the flight begins.

Airplanes can be very cold, so take off your shoes and replace them with a comfy pair of socks. This will also help simulate bed conditions for a restful sleep. Remember to put shoes back on for trips to the bathroom though!

If the flight will cross time zones, the wait for take-off is a great time to set all watches and devices to the destination’s time to help combat jet lag on arrival.

Playing with the in flight entertainment center on the airplane

Step 4: Passing the Time

Now for the flight itself. If it’s an overnight trip, try to get to sleep at what would be a normal hour in the arrival timezone to avoid being groggy on landing. For a daytime flight, many travelers find it helpful to break up a long trip into smaller, more manageable chunks. Set a phone or watch alarm to go off at hour or two hour intervals and use those benchmarks to divide the trip. This can make a trip both more productive and keep travelers healthy. When the alarm goes off, take the opportunity to get up and do some stretching, which can prevent stiffness and more serious conditions brought on by long flights. Try twisting, folding over, and rolling the head and neck to stay limber. If there’s work to be done, schedule it for the beginning of the flight, and make time for movies, naps, games, or reading later on.

Not to spoil the party, but it’s best to lay off the alcohol and caffeine on long flights. They’re both dehydrating, and the plane is doing enough of that on its own. Stick to water or drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade or coconut water. Remember that hand sanitizer as well  those tray tables probably aren’t cleaned with regularity. Armed with the right resources and tools, even 17.5 hours can become bearable. Sit back, relax, and find a little enjoyment between takeoff and landing.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 10th.

Published in Travel Tips

Thanks to Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol, you can now witness this voyage from the comfort of your own home. The airport recently released behind-the-scenes footage that reveals exactly what happens to bags after you hand them over at check-in and hope for the best. Check out the 360-degree video here.

While practices vary by country and airport, here’s a breakdown of the process as it’s commonly implemented in the U.S.:

  • After you leave a bag at check-in, it’s scanned by a laser barcode reader that transmits the bag’s tag number to a computer, which also keeps track of the bag’s destination. The bag is then sent off along a labyrinthine system of conveyor belts.
  • Once it reaches the main luggage facility, the bag is screened by seucrity. If security administrators have any concerns about a bag, they’ll open it to scope things out (If a bag is opened, the TSA will leave a note inside stating as much).
  • If the bag makes it through security, the computer communicates with the baggage conveyor system to direct the bag to the right airline.
  • Once the bag has reached its stop, a baggage handler removes it from the conveyor belt and loads it onto a cart along with the luggage of your fellow travelers. Baggage handlers then drive the cart to the plane and load the luggage onto the aircraft.

Airport luggage waiting for its flight

When a Bag Goes Missing

While missing luggage is at the top of the list of travel nightmares, the good news is that statistically, it’s very rare: There’s only a 1 percent chance your bag won’t arrive at a destination along with you.

What unfortunate circumstances must align for the worst to happen? The explanation could lie with any of a number of factors:

  • Needing to be unloaded and transferred to a connecting flight in one hour or less.
  • High volume of luggage, which ups the chances of things going wrong.
  • Slipping off the conveyor belt or into the wrong chute (This is more likely to happen when bags are placed on the conveyor wheels-down).
  • Human error. If the check-in clerk inaccurately labels the destination code, your bag doesn’t stand a chance. Likewise, the bag may get loaded onto the wrong wagon (and therefore the wrong plane).
  • Having multiple connections. The more often a bag needs to be unloaded, redirected, and loaded onto a new plane, the higher the chances of things going awry.

Airport baggage claim revolving track

How to Decrease the Odds of a Bag Getting Lost

While you may not be able to control everything that happens to a bag after check-in, take these steps to up the chances of luggage finding its way back to you:

  • Clearly label the bag with your name, address, and destination—both inside and out. Also apply some kind of visual identifier to the outside of the bag so it’s easy to describe to agents if it goes missing. Even better? Take a picture of the bag, including its ID tag and barcode, before it rolls off down the conveyor.
  • Get to the airport on time. Proper trip planning can help ensure there’s enough time between connections for bags to make it onto the plane along with you.
  • Know the rules regarding prohibited items, TSA-approved locks, and the like—and then follow them.
  • Tie up (or tuck in) all straps. Bag straps can get stuck in conveyors, creating delays in the sorting process (Depending on the length of said delays, this could mean that a bag won’t make it onto its flight).
  • Keep the essentials on hand at all times. Don’t check anything you can’t live without. Stash prescriptions, valuables, electronics, money, and an extra change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case. Be sure to follow all regulations so you don’t spend a ton of time in security.

If nothing else, perhaps learning about the wild adventures of checked luggage will make us all a little more grateful for the human way of flying. While babies may cry and people may recline their seats into your lap, it still beats sitting in the cargo hold.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on September 16th.

Published in Miscellany Articles

I had to renew my Passport recently and I started thinking about all the countries I have visited over the years. I realized I had been to quite a lot of places and started feeling very worldly, a seasoned traveler, yes a man of the world. But then I did a little checking and found out I am but a mere speck on the backside of some of the most traveled people in the world.

Travelers sleeping in the Zagreb train station
flickr // Kate B Dixon

There are several travel clubs that track peoples globetrotting but the most revered, yes I am bowing down as I write this, is the Most Traveled Peoples Club. According to their website they have 10,511 active members, of which 248 are under the age of 20 and 65 are over the age of 79. The club was started in 2005 as a community for extreme travelers and the club has since voted on and designated 872 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups and major states and provinces. They even have a theme song which is fittingly "I've Been Everywhere" by Johnny Cash.

The Founder of this club is rightfully so, the most traveled member of the group. Charles Veley, an American, is a recruiter for a software company. He has visited 822 of the recognized destinations and is one of only 90 members to have visited over 400 countries putting him in the clubs Hall of Fame. I felt better when I saw that 1285 of the members were in the Couch Potato classification meaning they have traveled to anywhere from 1 to 24 countries. I have that beat so in the words of Carl Spackler, Bill Murray's character in the movie Caddy Shack, "I've got that going for me."

So if you have the travel bug in you then get after it and get your name in the Hall of Fame and maybe be the "Most Traveled Person in the World.

Published in Miscellany Articles

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