Air travel can be a germaphobe's nightmare – crowds of coughing and sniffling strangers, all of those surfaces to touch, public restrooms, and the small shared space of an airplane's cabin. But during cold and flu season, and especially these days with pandemic flu concerns, we all need to be extra cautious as we take to the skies.

Still, there's no need to panic – simply pack and prepare for prevention!

All hands on the flight deck: You want to practice proper hand-washing hygiene no matter what your altitude. But, wow, can it be tricky when you're using those tiny sinks installed in most commercial airliners. Add in the complication of having to hold down the faucet handle to keep the water running! To enhance your hygiene routine, stash a bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on. "Wait," you wonder, "what about the restrictions on liquids in your luggage?" As long as your hand sanitizer container holds 3 ounces or less and is stowed in a clear 1 quart-sized plastic zip-top bag, you're cleared for take-off. Use sanitizer before you eat or drink and after you've touched surfaces in the plane, like the overhead bins. Make sure it is an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Breathe easy: An airplane may feel like a germ-trap. You're stuck inside of a tube with hundreds of strangers for hours at a time, some coughing and sneezing. You may have little control over your seating situation and worry that you'll catch something "in the air." But you can breathe a sigh of relief. The re-circulated air inside of an airplane passes through a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter before it comes into the cabin, minimizing passengers' exposure to potential pathogens.

Rest your weary head: More than ever, in-flight comfort gets compromised for the sake of economy – and sometimes for hygienic reasons. So, whether you're getting cozy in coach or stretched out in first, you'll notice that fewer airlines offer free pillows and blankets to their passengers. You probably wouldn't want to snuggle under a communal blanket anyway if you're worried another passenger may have used it as a hankie. To get some shut-eye through a red-eye flight, bring along your own travel pillow and blanket. You can find ones these days that can be balled-up into small carry-on-friendly pouches.

Stay hydrated: Skip the alcohol and coffee, which can dehydrate you. Water is your best option, or a vitamin-C-packed fruit juice such as orange or apple. When you're dehydrated, your nose and throat may become dry and more vulnerable to invading infections. If you're prone to dry nose, bring along a regulation-sized (3 ounces or less) bottle of saline nose spray stowed in a clear 1 quart-sized plastic zip-top bag. And bring along gum or sucking candies to keep your mouth moist when the beverage carts are put away.

Travelling sick: If you need to fly but you have a mild flu or cold, be considerate of your fellow passengers by practicing stringent hygiene habits – washing or sanitizing your hands often, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and avoid touching too many shared surfaces if you can. If you want to wear a mask or respirator to protect others from your germs, be sure to follow the instructions for proper use.

Ground your flight: For your own health and the health of your fellow passengers, you might decide to skip your flight if you're sick or contagious. Watch out for symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and pain, tiredness and runny or stuffy nose.

Frequent flyers' insurance:If you travel often for business or pleasure, you might want to consider getting vaccinated against the seasonal flu. Remember that flu season may vary depending on the regions. While the flu season in Northern Hemisphere typically lasts from mid-October to the end of April, flu activity in Southern Hemisphere occurs from April to September. And when making your travel plans, keep in mind that it takes your body about 2 weeks to develop an immune response to the vaccinations.