Research says you should always leave your air vent open while travelling

By Christina Cavaleri September 9, 2017

We all get scared of getting sick when going on planes.

It’s filled with germs.

Cramming thousands of passengers on a plane, sitting on the same seats, different hands touching the arms rests, and coughs heard at least every 10 seconds.


Yep, it’s a recipe for sickness.

Many passengers tend to close off the air vent assuming it’s going to make them at a higher risk to get sick because of the freezing air blowing onto their chest.

In fact, this is the complete opposite of what you should be doing.

Well, this is according to Dr. Mark Gendreau, the medical director and vice chair of emergency medicine at Lahey Medical Center-Peabody in Massachusetts, and an expert on the spread of infectious diseases associated with air travel.

He spoke to Travel + Leisure about the air vent and how even put at a low setting helps with ventilation, which in turn helps keep airborne viruses at bay.

“For airborne viruses, it is incredibly important to ventilate, since ventilation becomes your main means of control besides isolating the affected person.”

Not sure what airborne viruses are, don’t worry I didn’t know either. They are viruses like tuberculosis and measles, which are transmitted by tiny droplets of nuclei that can hang in the air for up to five hours. 

The doctor stresses that leaving your air vent on while continue a consistent flow of air creating an invisible air barrier around you that creates turbulence, which blocks these particles and forces them to the ground faster.

Dr Gendreau also says that planes have low humidity which means your mucous membrane can dry out during a flight meaning you’re more susceptible to contracting a virus.

He says it’s a common misunderstanding to switch off the vent because we assume it will save us from sickness because it will stop germs from all the other passengers spreading through the air. 

“The flow pattern of air on an aircraft doesn’t necessarily work front to back, or back to front. It’s actually compartmentalised into various sections on the aircraft.

“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."

Image credit: Getty images/Ryan McVay