If you want to avoid getting sick on a plane, the worst place to sit, according to Charles Gerba, is along the aisle. The issue is exposure—not just to other passengers, but anything they touch. That means obvious hot spots (arm rests, tray tables, in-flight magazines) and less-obvious ones like aisle seats, which people use to steady themselves as they move about the cabin, frequently on their way to and from a lavatory.
Oh right, lavatories. Don’t get Gerba started on those. Overtrafficked and underserviced, many are swarming with E. coli. “Your typical flight will have one for every 50 people,” he says. “Sometimes it’s more like one per 75.”
Gerba is an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, where he studies how diseases spread through indoor spaces. Planes. Kitchens. Casinos. Cruise ships. He’s an internationally renowned expert on fomites (i.e. objects and surfaces that are liable to carry infectious matter), a bottomless cesspit of stomach-turning stories (one of his go-tos involves someone projectile-vomiting into a spinning roulette wheel), and, this probably goes without saying, one of my favorite people to talk with about infectious diseases.
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