Holiday Guide to Germ-Free Air Travel

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While the rest of us were preparing for Thanksgiving, the CDC was kicking off its largest-ever public awareness campaign about staying healthy while traveling.

And not a moment too soon.

Peak flu season coincides with the busiest weeks of the winter travel season. And although the CDC reported this week that flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are on the drop, an agency spokesperson notes that flu cases “are still very high nation-wide compared to what is expected for this time of year.”

So, in preparation for the next big wave of holiday travel, this week I devoted my Well Mannered Traveler column on MSNBC.com to a review of tips for germ-free air travel and an update from airlines about change fees should illness strike.

You can read the Holiday Guide to Germ –Free Air Travel on MSNBC.com and vote on whether or not you think all airlines should waive change fees for passengers who are ill. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from that story.

Steer Clear of Germs

To stay healthy while traveling, begin your trip well-rested and head for the airport early. That way, you won’t be pressed for time, and the stress of traffic and long security lines will roll off your back.

To help ward off illness, experts suggest boosting immunity with exercise, healthy foods and vitamins and, in case you should begin to feel ill, a supply of prescriptions and cold medications to save yourself the hassle of searching for a pharmacy at an airport or in an unfamiliar city.

A sink in every suitcase
Frequent hand washing remains the best way to avoid germs while traveling, so that kitchen sink in your seatmate’s carry-on bag may actually come in handy.

The CDC says alcohol-based hand sanitizers are fine too, but when you pass through security, those small bottles of sanitizing solution must go in your quart-sized plastic bag. Fishing out the bottles after screening can be a hassle, so keep a supply of individual packets of sanitizing wipes in your pocket. That way you can clean up after touching the plastic bins that have held dirty shoes and other germ-laden items and also wipe down the tray table, armrests and lavatory door handles when you’re on the plane.

Flying with the flu

If you do get sick, CDC suggests you change your plans and stay home. But many travelers will ignore that advice because of hefty change fees levied by most airlines.

Many doctors would like all airlines to waive cancellation and change fees for ill passengers and while some do, you can get dizzy trying to wade through some airline Web sites trying to locate the relevant policy.

To confuse matters even more, some airlines said policies regarding change fees for ill passengers were “under review.”  So it’s sort of a moving target. But for now, here’s what I found out:

  • JetBlue, Northwest and Delta deal with ill passengers seeking changes “on a case-by-case basis.”
  • If you’ve got a non-refundable ticket on American or US Airways, changes to accommodate illness will still cost $150, plus the difference between the old and new fares.
  • AirTran Airways will waive cancellation and rescheduling fees for any passenger with a doctor’s note documenting that they have H1N1, but the policy does not apply to seasonal flu or other illnesses.
  • Virgin America, Continental and United have ongoing policies to waive change fees for customers who can provide documentation of illness from their doctor.
  • And, whether you’re sick, or just sick of flying on airplanes seated next to sneezing, wheezing people, Southwest doesn’t charge for changing or canceling a flight.

Seasonal and H1N1 vaccines back at ORD and Midway airports

Getting ready to head home from a Thanksgiving visit?


If you haven’t gotten a seasonal flu shot or an H1N1 vaccine and are traveling to or through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Midway Airport – you’re in luck.


The airport clinic in Terminal 2 operated by the University of Illinois at Chicago and – starting Sunday; stand-alone kiosks in the terminals at ORD and Midway Airports – will be offering arm-shot seasonal flu vaccines and H1N1 flu vaccines in the nasal mist form.

Both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 vaccines have been hard to find, and it’s a good bet this supply won’t last long. So if you have time – make it a point to get vaccinated at the airport.

The kiosks at ORD are in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3; at Midway the kiosk is in the airport’s  concession triangle.  The H1N1 mist costs $25; seasonal flu shots are $35. And, as with clinics across the country, the airport-provided vaccines will not be available to everyone: the clinic will be giving inoculations to those who fall into the federally defined at-risk categories.

For more information call the IUC clinic at: (773) 894- 5100

Next time you’re stuck at the airport, don’t get bored: get vaccinated.


The vaccine for the H1N1 vaccine isn’t available quite yet, but there are plenty of regular, seasonal flu shots around. And this year there are also plenty of airports where you can get a flu shot on the fly.  I tracked down the details for my At the Airport column on USAToday.com: Airports ready for passengers seeking flu shots.


Last year travelers could get flu shots at about two dozen airports, including San Francisco International Airport, Des Moines International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Denver International Airport, and others. This year, with so many people concerned about getting sick, more airports are making room for flu shot kiosks.

And because of the heightened awareness, several airport clinics, including the UIC Medical Center at O’Hare, Orlando International Airport’s Solantic clinic, and the AeroClinic at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, began offering flu shots to the public back around Labor Day, even though the official flu season doesn’t usually begin until October. And airports such as Tampa International, which in the past offered flu shot clinics for employees only, arranged to have flu shot kiosks available for the traveling public.


Over the next few weeks, flu shot programs will be rolling out at Louisville International Airport, Sacramento International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and others. Harmony Pharmacy will offer flu shots at its year-round clinics and from temporary kiosks at New York JFK and Newark-Liberty airports.

A spokesperson from Airport MD said that company hopes to offer flu shots by October 1st in Miami, Las Vegas and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports. Several other airports, including San Diego International Airport and Oakland International Airport, are still working out their flu shot program details. And Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which for the past three years has been able to offer flu shots for free during a few days towards the end of the season, expects that this year it will be able to do the same.

flu shot

To find out if flu shots are being offered at an airport near you, please see the flu shot chart included with my USATODAY.com column: Airports are ready for passengers seeking flu shots.