By Erika Owen
Updated: January 24, 2017
Vicki Beaver / Alamy

There aren’t many things that rank lower on a vacation checklist than “catching a cold on the plane” when jetting off to your destination of choice. While there are great defenses to tight-space germ-spreading (Airborne, where we be without you?) there’s just no avoiding it sometimes. Luckily, 17-year-old Raymond Wang—a junior at St Georges School in Vancouver—has come up with an airflow device that’ll help keep you healthy, despite germs’ best attempt at getting all up in your business.

With help from computer simulations and plane cabin models, the teenager was able to come up with a device aimed at directing airflow in plane cabins to best avoid disease transmission among passengers. For example, when a person sneezes in an airplane cabin, the germs can travel up to 50 feet in all directions due to the plane’s airflow system. With Wang’s design, germs travel in a more vertical manner centered around the sneezer ultimately dispersing quicker and interacting with fewer people. Here are a couple of video simulations for you visual learners:

Wang predicts that this airflow device can "improve the availability of fresh air in the cabin by 190 percent and reduce the concentration of airborne germs by 55 times." The question of how quickly the infected air reaches the filters is a factor in the design’s success. He created 32 simulations to track germ movement in a Boeing 737 and found that contaminated air is pushed through cabins continuously before being sent through a filter. Wang’s solution: more “personalized breathing zones”—or separate walls of air that stop germs from entering a passenger’s personal space—that work with smaller spaces centered around individual passengers.

Aviation specialists are hesitant to accept this idea as the ultimate solution to stopping disease transmission on flights considering touching public surfaces also adds to germ spreading. That being said, this idea won Wang $75,000 and a top prize at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last May. 

Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.

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