It matters where you sit, if you don’t want the flu

By Ong Shi Man

When you board a plane, the chances of getting sick in the confined space of the cabin you have been assigned to depend on how close you are to someone who is already sick.

Your chances of getting sick is 80 per cent if you’re sitting within one row of a sick passenger, according to a PNAS study. PHOTO: PEXELS

Sitting next to a passenger with the flu almost certainly means you will get it too. Being in front or behind the coughing or sneezing person is just as bad — the risk is still 80 per cent, according to a US study.

The good news is passengers not in direct contact with a sick passenger have less than a 3 per
cent risk, say the researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

They found that a flight attendant with the flu is likely to infect up to five people.

“Thus, it is imperative that flight attendants not fly when they are ill,” says the study.

The researchers flew on 10 US domestic flights, and noted passenger movement in the economy cabin to calculate their chances of getting respiratory ailments.

Data from more than 40 flight attendants and 1,500 passengers was analysed, and the findings
published in last month in PNAS, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

A former stewardess who declined to be named told the Nanyang Chronicle that when a crew member is sick, it is not difficult to get a medical certificate.

“You just have to call in to flight operations and leave a message with the automated system.”

But many who are sick still insist on going to work for fear it affects their flight record and future promotion, the stewardess said.

Cabin crew members, who move around the most in an aircraft, are highest at risk of catching a sick passenger’s cough, cold or flu, said the study.

Next are those in the aisle and middle seats, though researchers cautioned that this finding may not apply to longer flights and other cabin layouts as passengers might behave differently.

Joel Lee, a second-year student from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, is not about to give up his aisle seat preference any time soon. “Personal hygiene is the most important thing. And it’s something I am in control of,” he said.

Wong Rui Yee, a second-year student at the School of Social Sciences, also likes sitting along the aisle, for easier access to the washroom.

But is she troubled about getting sick from the flight?

“To be honest, my first fear is the plane crashing.”

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