Calming the coughing epidemic on planes

(Photo: Mr Stabile / Flickr)

[From  reader JM:] I wanted to get this off my chest and thought it might make an interesting blog post for you…

I just flew back from Cancun on Delta. Great service with a smile—I was impressed.

However there was lots of coughing going on– I felt surrounded by a coven of coughers.

I arrived back home at 5:30 pm, went to bed and then woke at 4 am with a sore throat—and a cold coming on.  As always, I hit the cold hard with zinc lozenges, anti-inflammatories, lots of rest immediately, Vicks on the bottom of my feet, chicken soup, etc. I’m glad to say that I am pretty much over it, fortunately.

But…I found it curious that the flight attendants (for their own health, if not the passengers) don’t announce something like this during cold and flu season:

“If you have a cough, as a courtesy to those around you over the duration of the flight:  cover your mouth, cough into your elbow or your collar, not your hands.”

Maybe they could sell cough drops—or even give them away to ill-prepared passengers. Maybe pass out handkerchiefs for people to cough or sneeze into? The effort would be well worth the trouble and expense, and build goodwill for the airline.

If I had cough drops, I would have given them out gladly.

For everyone’s ears and nerves, don’t you think this is a concern, especially now that the flu epidemic seems to be escalating?

You travel much more than I do, so I’m curious to know if this has ever been addressed. Would love to have some flight attendants weigh in. OK, I’m done with my rant. :)

Thanks JM! You are onto something here. There was a cougher/hacker behind me all the way from Tokyo last night! The hacking, sneezing and wheezing does get a bit tedious, especially on overnight flights. I think this would be an excellent opportunity for an airline to team up with Vicks, Kleenex, Handi-wipes or Hanes Handkerchiefs and help put a muzzle on the flu. Delta? Southwest? Are you reading The TICKET?

What do you think? Have you noticed coughing getting worse? Have you ever been stuck in an embarrassing coughing fit, and would have welcomed a cough drop from a flight attendant? Please leave your comments below.


  • Stephen G

    Jim J nailed it.

    I was on a short flight from Myrtle Beach recently with Hoopie Hooping Cough sitting across the aisle. Not once did she cover her mouth. I wanted to say something, but didn’t. When we arrived in ATL and we were exiting the plane Hoopie made the big mistake of coughing too close to a fellow passenger who immediately chastised her in front of everyone on the plane. If she didn’t die from the cough she surely died from humiliation.

  • Tommy

    At one time I remember that Delta use to have cough drops in the crown room in a basket. I have not seen them in a long time. Maybe it was a promotional thing. Maybe they should do it again on flights.

  • Pam

    Flew to London on Wed night and we had hackers too. When I got here the British were not even aware that we have such a wicked flu season going on. Given the circumstances why could we not put on those small surgical masks like the Japanese are so prone to do? It may look funny but it is effective in keeping most germs away from us when we are in those flying tubes of germs. I too now have a sore throat and am hitting the C and zinc lozenges. I just feel sorry for the flight attendants that have to deal with this on a daily basis.

  • arvin Wallker

    I don’t fly much anymore, but if and when I do, I have been forewarned.

  • Alice

    Totally agree–had the same problem with a sick guy 2 seats over in Biz class non-stop to Seoul. He coughed and sneezed and threw wet tissues on the floor the whole time. I was sick for several days of a two week APAC trip to four countries after that flight. I asked for mask, but they didn’t have any. I would’ve paid the guy $100 bucks to wear it or put it on myself.

  • Chris

    Now there’s a fresh idea for a new fee! Watch out! :/ — chris

  • Jim J

    Giving away free masks, cough drops and wipes on flights are a great ideaz. However, these days, the airlines don’t like to give anything away for free. They will probably soon start charging for these items and turn “disease protection” into a profit center.

  • Kim

    My husband caught a cold a couple of days before we were to leave to fly home to Atlanta from Hawaii earlier this month. We made a special trip to a drugstore before we went to the airport in Honolulu to buy a surgical mask that he wore on the plane so he wouldn’t infect anyone else on the plane. He felt a little conspicuous, but I told him to just pretend we were in Japan. And, no doubt our fellow passengers appreciated his efforts to keep his germs to himself.

  • Scott

    It must be this winter! I flew back from DEN after the Christmas holiday and sat beside a man who sneezed and coughed throughout the flight. Sure enough next day I started with a sore throat, then a head cold, it went on to my chest, and eventually turned into acute bronchitis. After two visits to the doctor and about $200 in prescriptions and medicines, I finally started feeling better although it lasted almost three weeks! A full flight is always a “germ factory”!

  • DeWhit

    In a perfect world….

    Remember that some of the same people hacking also take off their shoes on board and put their feet on the bulkheads, their kids standing in seats and drooling and stuff greasy carry on pizza boxes and used tissue in the seat back pockets. It’s amazing we don’t seriously consider wearing hazmat suits to fly regularly.

  • Clay

    I flew Shanghai to Detroit this past Monday, and luckily was bumped up to the front of the bus. The guy sitting directly behind me was hacking the entire flight. I would have bought cough drops for him had they been offered by Delta. I think it’s a great idea.

  • Chris Walker

    I cannot speak for flight attendants, but I know that once I retired from the front office (cockpit) my instances of being sick with colds, flu, etc. went down tremendously. It stands to reason that the more you are in crowds of people you will be exposed to more germs than if you worked alone or in a secluded location. You are correct about coughers and sneezers keeping their germs contained better; if everyone used a mask as they do in Asia, then the chances of catching colds would hopefully decrease. It would be a great thing for airliners to carry cough drops, wipes, etc. just as they used to carry blankets and pillows.

  • Tom

    I totally agree. I even wrote an email to the people at ATL and told them it was irresponsible of them not to have hand sanitizer and masks available. I never got a response.

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