Please stop coughing on the back of my neck.

News flash: The way that airlines board planes spreads diseases.


This spring, on a long flight from Cabo to DC, I had a prime aisle seat in the 2nd last row of the plane.

There was a guy in the last row who coughed a few times before take-off.


Once in the air, it was 5 solid hours of coughing, wheezing and sneezing. Some of the sneezes literally landed on the back of my neck..

I thought my relatively dependable immune system would protect me.

Not so, lucky.

For more than 2 weeks, I had one of my worst colds in decades.

I was hacked at the guy for flying sick.

And, I wondered if the airlines could do more to protect passengers (like me) from disease-spreaders.

Well, a research team at Arizona State has partially answered that question to the affirmative.


The research conclusion:

By changing how they board passengers, airlines stop people being infected so readily.

The researchers used a mathematical model to predict how many people would be infected using different boarding methods.

The researchers concluded that the current way of doing things actually produces the worst results.

Boarding people in zones – first class first, business next, back-of-the-plane last, and so on – means that the greatest possible number of people are likely to come into contact with a single infected passenger.


Clusters of passengers form in the zone’s aisle as everyone waits to sit down.

If one of them is infected, the whole cluster gets a prolonged , up-close-and-personal exposure to that infected passenger.


The researchers tested several ways of boarding passengers, including a no-assigned-seats approach.

The winners: randomly boarding  passengers with reservations and …

Drum roll …

Southwest Airlines’ A-B-C pick-your-own-seat approach to boarding .


The study also advised:

Avoid the seats in the back of the plane.


Lavatories are in the back of the plane … sick people tend to make more frequent trips to the lavatories … and, if all facilities are temporarily occupied, the sickies hang out the area until a lav opens up.


Wish I had known that a couple of months ago …



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