We’ve all been there, sitting on the plane, it’s getting warm, and the only thing to keep you from sweating through your shirt is that tiny little air vent you have jimmy in the right direction to direct some semi-cool air down on to your withering body.
Then again, there are flights where it’s the exact opposite and the plane is freezing your balls off and the last thing you need is more cool air turning you into a human popsicle.
Mix those two scenarios with the fact that you probably heard at some point in your many travels that the air vent can cause the spread of germs brought on board by all the filthy humans now inhabiting your space.
So what is a guy to do?
Turns out that turning off the vent to prevent the spread of illness is a common misconception because in reality turning it on the does the exact opposite, according to Dr. Mark Gendreau, who explained the hows and whys to Travel + Leisure…
“Ventilation on airplanes has gotten a bad reputation, but it’s completely unfounded,” Gendreau told T+L.
Part of the reason for this, Gendreau explained, is that there wasn’t really any research on the topic until the last 15 years. But the other reason is a common misconception people often have about the way plane ventilation systems actually work.
“The flow pattern of air on an aircraft doesn’t necessarily work front to back, or back to front. It’s actually compartmentalized into various sections on the aircraft,” Gendreau said.
“As a rule of thumb, the air that you’re typically breathing and exposed to is usually anywhere from two to five rows surrounding your seat,” he added.
Okay, but that still doesn’t sound very appealing. We’re still forced to breathe the germs spread by the people in our “zones” as he calls them. Please continue…
The number of these ventilation zones varies depending on the aircraft, but each zone typically goes through this filtration process 15 to 30 times within the hour, with 50 percent of the air getting re-circulated and 50 percent of the air coming from outside, according to Gendreau.
The systems were primarily designed during the time when smoking was permitted on flights, Gendreau said, meaning airlines had to come up with an efficient and regular filtration system for their ventilation to clear the smoke from the cabins.
For this reason, HEPA filters can remove more than 99 percent of dust and microbes in the air.
Okay, now I am with you, doctor.
Turns out that airborne viruses like tuberculosis and measles can hang in the air for hours, while other viruses associated with the common cold and upper respiratory infections, float to the floor a little quicker. Which is why having the vent on actually serves to protect you.
By using the vent and turning it on medium or low, you can create an invisible air barrier around you that creates turbulence — simultaneously blocking these particles and forcing them to the ground faster.
Don’t know about you, but an invisible air barrier sounds EXACTLY like the kind of thing I’d like to have around me at all times when flying on an airplane.
Check out the rest of the doctor’s insights on this subject over at Travel + Leisure.