Being cramped on an airplane with other people who may be sick is not an ideal situation for staying healthy. A new study has found, however, that one place on a plane may offer some refuge from breathing in diseases like the flu. Apparently, where people sit on an airplane determines who could get sick.

It’s All About The Seating Arrangement

A new paper shows that the plane’s seating arrangement can determine which passengers could get sick. The researchers discovered that people seated in the same row as a passenger with the flu, or one row behind or in front of, were more likely to become sick with the flu after the flight.

The rest of the passengers on the flight wouldn’t be completely spared but they would have a very slim chance of getting sick after the flight. In the paper, researchers were sure to point out that despite media reports about the spread of viruses on airplanes, there was little known about the risks of transmitting diseases on airplanes.

The researchers obtained information by tracking the behaviors and movements of people in the economy class of 10 transcontinental U.S. flights. Over these flights, the researchers noticed that patterns emerged regarding the transmission of diseases.

People that were seated in the aisle seats of the flight were more likely to move around than those seated in the window seat. Those seated in the window seat were less likely to move around the flight as 57 percent of them stayed there for the entire flight. 48 percent of those in middle seats stayed, and only 20 percent of those in the aisle didn’t go around.

The reasons people got up during the flight were to use the bathroom or to get something stored in the overhead compartment. A majority of people on the flights reported close contact with another passenger, with 84 percent saying they had close contact with another passenger seated more than around 3 feet away.

When researchers simulated the number of people who could become infected during a flight, they found that one sick passenger couldn’t infect the entire airplane.

Beware Of Crew Members

As crew members move around a lot throughout the flight, they come into contact with those with the flu and with the rest of the passengers. In the study, the total amount of time crew members spent in contact with passengers added up to 1,149 “person-minutes.” This gives them opportunity to spread the infection.

According to the study, one sick crew member could infect an average of 4.6 passengers. It is unlikely, however, that a sick crew member would show up for work.

Researchers also tested the cleanliness of the airplane to see its connection to the spread of the flu. They tested tray tables, seat belt buckles, and bathroom door handles. Instead, they found the opposite: none of the areas tested had any evidence of the 18 most common respiratory viruses.