Airplanes are a hotbed for illness. The more people you come into contact with on a crowded flight, the better chance you have of catching something. Add the dry cabin air, toxic substances like hydraulic fluids, de-icing solutions and pesticides, mix in the cold and flu season, and you have the ingredients for an ailment cocktail.

The airlines began mixing fresh air with re-circulated air in the 1980s to save money. It is true that the re-circulated air goes through a filtration system, but I can’t say that I am over-confident about the filter’s efficiency.

When someone in the front of a 747 does her nails in-flight, why can I immediately smell it in the very back? According to the New England Journal of Medicine, travel on airplanes has been found responsible for the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This doesn’t sound efficient enough to me.

Don’t get sick when you fly. Here’s how.

1. Be prepared. Always bring a decongestant with you. A cold can creep up on you during a multi-hour flight. If your ears become blocked you might also have a painful landing. Taking an herbal supplement called Echinacea before each flight will definitely boost your immune system.

2. Use your biggest fan. If your seat partner has a case of the lung oysters, then turn on the fan above your seat. Point it towards you and to the side of your sick neighbor. Don’t get into a deep conversation with him, and turn your head whenever he sneezes. Or better yet, ask the flight attendant if you can switch to another seat. There is nothing worse than the person behind you applying sneeze hairspray on you every two minutes.

3. Make a clean getaway. Wash your hands every chance you get and try to keep them away from your face. Everything you touch on that airplane has been touched by at least 50 people before you.

4. Layer it. Dress in layers and adjust your body temperature accordingly. There is nothing worse than working up a sweat as you run through the airport for a connecting flight, only to wait out on a freezing jetway to board.

5. Bring your own amenities. Unless wrapped in plastic, avoid such onboard provisions as blankets, pillows and headsets. Who knows what ailments the last person who used them had?

OK, you have taken your precautions, but still end up getting sick from, of all people, your flight attendants. What you don’t know about the airline illness policy might make you, the passenger, sick. How many times have you boarded an aircraft and the flight attendant who is supposed to be smiling, is instead blowing her nose and looks as if she is a poster child for the flu vaccine? The last thing you want to do is to be served anything from her, much less get within sneezing distance.

As you know, flight attendants are exposed to many different people, climate changes, and irregular hours. Flu, colds, and even head lice are but a few of the onboard-transmitted maladies.

Luckily, flight attendants have a provision in their work rules that include paid sick time. The main problem today is that the airline industry is in financial trouble, and sick time increases operating losses. Therefore, the management team comes down on the employees, and threatens disciplinary action for excessive sick leave. This scares junior employees into coming to work sick, who then proceed to infect other employees and passengers. A chain reaction ensues and before you know it you have a mucous epidemic.

My advice to anyone encountering an overtly sick flight attendant:

Get their name. Write the company and complain. The crewmember will not get in trouble, but it will send a signal to the airline to ease off on the sick discipline issue.

Turn it down. Do not accept any drink or meal from anyone who has to wipe their nose or cough every ten seconds. It is better to go thirsty than to get runny.

In regard to the recent airline sickouts and lack of support to their struggling company, at this point, the airline has likely broken too many promises to its employees, and all loyalty bets are off. Who knows, maybe they are using their sick time to search for a new job?

I was able to stay off the sick list for 10 years with my current airline. One day luck my luck ran out and I caught the flu. I lay in bed, watched movies, sipped chicken soup, and slept a countless amount of hours, all the while getting paid.

I decided to start work on a new home improvement scheme while recovering from the tail end of my illness. In the store, I saw something that horrified me — my in-flight supervisor! Unfortunately, I was sure that he saw me as well. I dropped the bag of gravel I was holding, and quickly spun around.

I ran down the aisle and headed for the exit at the other end of the store, and to my dismay saw my supervisor doing the same. Was he following me?

The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it became. I was a grown man running away from another person in fear of being scolded. I was still showing symptoms of my illness, but also knew that if I was well enough to be lifting heavy items in a home improvement store, I was probably fit enough to return to work. After a sleepless night, I called and asked the secretary if I could speak to my supervisor.

“I am sorry, he has been on sick leave for the last few days. Can I take a message?”

I smiled, hung up the phone, and the matter was never spoken of again.

Case closed.