Wash your hands! Cover your cough!

That’s the kind of advice many hotel chains and airlines are touting this month as the autumn flu season threatens to keep people under the weather and the travel industry out of business, according to a recent New York Times article.

When the swine flu reports first hit last spring, the travel industry took a beating, so now they’re regrouping by focusing on increasing preventative measures like reminding employees to wash their hands and wiping down frequently touched banisters, elevator buttons and fitness rooms. 

Most of these measures, such as placing tissues and hand sanitizer in public areas, are purposefully discreet to avoid alarming travelers and setting off a panic.

According to John Wolf, spokesman for Marriot International, the company is stocking up on items like rubber gloves and giving out hand sanitizer to conferences held onsite. 

Jet set travelers will also be inundated with plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers around high-traffic areas in a number of airports.

Hopefully, the hand sanitizer that the hotels and airlines give out will be alcohol-based rather than that of the antibacterial variety. This is because antibacterial soaps are no better than ordinary soaps, since swine flu is caused by a virus, not by bacteria.  

In addition to hotels, airlines are also stepping up their preventative measures, such as posting friendly reminders to travelers about keeping their germs to themselves by covering up their mouths when coughing. These will most likely be posted next the usual signs you find near high-traffic areas like the security checkpoint. 

However, once on the plane, travelers are on their own.

Well, sort of.

Though people tend to think that airplanes are basically a breeding ground for germs, that’s actually not true, according to the CDC.

“I think people are sort of worried about cabin air, but the air filtration systems in aircraft are highly sophisticated,” said Dr. Nina Marano, an expert on travelers’ health at the CDC.

Others disagree, like the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents about half of all flight attendants in the U.S.

It wants high-grade respirator masks on board for every crewmember on every single flight. These masks differ from typical surgical masks by protecting against airborne particles. Surgical masks, on the other hand, only block droplets.

The industry is fighting that demand, most likely because it will raise costs, but also because (understandably enough) having flight attendants run around with scary-looking masks might freak passengers out.

In the meantime, travelers worried about getting the flu should take matters into their own hands.

“I was actually quarantined during the SARS epidemic, so I’m being quite careful this time,” said David Jansen, who is often jet-bound as an employee in the anticorruption division at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“It’s frequent hand washing, and I take antibacterial wipes with me,” he said. “I definitely make sure I take my vitamins and fish oils and Airborne tablets.”

Travel industry prepares for flu season
Commonsense techniques like hand washing are heavily touted to help reduce illness.