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Germs and Manners at 30,000 Feet

Dear Bintel Brief,

On a plane recently in the row in front of me sat a mother and a young child. The child was sick and suffering loudly. She coughed and sneezed on the window, and the mother didn’t bother to wipe the germs. I debated with myself over whether or not to tell the flight crew after we disembarked, since the next person to sit in the seat could get sick. I said nothing, and then felt guilty. What should I have done?


Ariel Levy responds:

Dear Guilty,

Well, we both know it would’ve been great of you to alert the crew to the germ situation on the window in front of you. On the bright side, according to Dr. James Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic, cold and flu germs can die on surfaces outside the body in is little as a few minutes. On the dark side, they can also survive there in some cases for 48 hours. Consequently, all of us should be treating pretty much everything at all times as a germ hive, and washing our hands every other minute accordingly. Needless to say, if you or your kid is lousy with flu, the decent thing is really not to get on a plane in the first place.

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy has profiled the intersex South African runner Caster Semenya, the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, the director Nora Ephron, and Cindy McCain, wife of former Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain. Previously, Levy wrote for New York magazine for more than decade. Her work has been anthologized in “The Best American Essays” and “The Best American Crime Reporting.” Levy is the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” (Free Press, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief, featuring Ariel Levy, will be published Mondays at




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