Airlines: remind people to cover their coughs

The conference finished yesterday. In the meantime, during the night between Saturday and Sunday, the cold passed on to me by the two lavishly sneezing coughing guys who sat next to me on the plane made itself known; I felt crappy all of yesterday and coughed enough for ten people. Oddly, though, it’s much better today. (But thanks, guys on the plane. Thanks a lot. Thanks for never properly covering your coughs and sneezes during the ten hours of that flight. Thanks for never giving a thought to the people trapped an inch away from you for ten hours. You’re real pigs, both of you.)

[pause to cough]

For dessert last night we went to a comedy bar for a show by Kate Smurthwaite, which was brilliant.

Before that I had tea with Marie-Therese in the hotel restaurant/bar. It was terrific to meet her at last, after all these years.


  1. Lofty says

    Airliners are a fascinating evolutionary aid for human pathogens to rapidly infect the whole planet. You’d think the virus’s deliberately infected a head designer’s brain! I’d design one with breathing masks/zones for every passenger to use during the whole flight.
    At least you had a couple of days before the cold really took hold. I’ve currently got a nasty one myself, probably flew in here on a transcontinental flight a couple of weeks ago. Lucky thing it hasn’t affected my fingers, gotta love the internet, my voice is totally gone. 🙁
    Cheers and all the best for the trip home.

  2. says

    Well it wasn’t actually a couple of days. Friday evening and Saturday, only – it took hold Saturday night.

    But that means it waited until after I did the panel, so at least that’s a mercy.

  3. says

    I was practically on my deathbed for 2 weeks from the day I left Dublin 2 years ago. So far I’m feeling ok, I can really do without this happening again. Hope you’re feeling better Ophelia!

  4. Hamilton Jacobi says

    In the aftermath of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, it became the norm that people exhibiting any type of cold or flu symptoms were expected to wear a surgical mask in public, to protect others. This should be required by law for airline passengers, and the airlines should be required to provide sufficient masks for this purpose.

  5. Matt Penfold says

    Surgical masks do very little to protect against the spread of infection. The only reason they are still used in operating theatres is because they do offer some benefit to the wearer against breathing in larger particles. Otherwise It is really hygiene theatre.

  6. Seth says

    The point has been made that banning smoking on airlines has actually drastically reduced air quality on flights–because it’s allowed airlines to justify recycling *all* of the air onboard, rather than piping it out and drawing in fresher air from outside (as was standard practice to clear out the smoke). This decision saves a bit of fuel, which probably makes flights cheaper in the long run, but it’s at the cost of spreading viruses and bacteria with frightening efficiency.

  7. Omar Puhleez says


    Surgical masks do “very little” to prevent infection?
    Is that so? Infection BY the mask wearer? Can we assume you can cite evidence to back this up?

    I say this because droplets sneezed out of the nose and throat should be trapped by the absorbent material and taken out of circulation, reducing the concentration of virus particles in the air around the mask wearer. And raising the humidity inside the mask.

    I am not saying you are wrong. I would just like to know what studies you have in mind.

    Transmission of pathogens by airlines is a growing problem.

  8. badgersdaughter says

    @Omar: If you can manage to design a surgical mask that prevents a sufferer from having to blow their nose with a tissue in their hands, then touching a surface that might be touched by other people who might use their hands for eating or retrieving a wayward eyelash, then I’ll agree with you that surgical masks could possibly be effective protection against the transmission of colds. Assuming the vast majority of sufferers wear them consistently, of course.

  9. Karen Locke says

    My allergist taught my to cough or sneeze into the inside of my elbow, so I don’t contaminate my hands. But the secret to staying bug-free is to wash, wash, wash!

  10. Hamilton Jacobi says

    Matt Penfold:

    The purpose of the mask is not to protect the wearer.


    I don’t think anyone is claiming that masks alone are 100% effective in preventing all modes of transmission, especially via direct contact with contaminated surfaces. But if sick people will do their part by not filling the air with virus-laden droplets, you can take care of the rest by not touching your face or food until you are sure your hands are clean.

  11. Omar Puhleez says

    My wife and I recently went on a 10-day cruise (NW Passage). The cruise company required anyone entering dining areas to sterilise their hands under staff supervision. Mass viral contamination is pretty easy to organise in the close confines of a ship. Planes are more confined, but journeys are of shorter duration.

    I think it worked. Any measure to cut down the spread of virus-laden particles has to be a good thing.

  12. says

    It was terrific to meet her at last, after all these years.

    Yep, I was an avid reader of your old blog since 2005. How time flies! I only plucked up courage, much later on, to comment on an old thread regarding Kathleen O’Malley, author of ‘Childhood Interrupted’. In fact, I came bursting on the scene because I was so riled up. As I too had had similar institutional experiences as Kay, at the hands of the ‘Mercy’ nuns and it triggered in me so much angst.

    Have been letting off steam ever since.

    Society for the Prevention of Kindness

    ‘Twas also terrific meeting you. Thank you.

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