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Travel Tech: Do Air Purifiers Work on Plane Trips?

Our health expert makes sense of the mini purifiers that promise to make your next trip sniffle free.

You may have seen those odd-looking little black or gray things hanging around the necks of fellow air travelers. They are the size of a small matchbox or a really tiny MP3 player. The idea behind these "ionizers" is that they screen out particles from the air -- perhaps even bacteria -- that might otherwise cause the wearer allergies or head colds. The ads for some state they "protect against harmful airborne pollutants and germs" (AirTamer) or "reduce particles in the 0.04 to 3 micron range" (Fresh Air Buddy). I looked into four products for this article, three you wear around your neck and one you adhere over the air nozzle above you in the plane.

Some suppliers mention that their portable devices, such as the one I use, can be worn elsewhere than airplanes, in any crowded situation such as theaters, restaurants, offices, subways, trains and buses. That may be a good idea, especially during flu season.

Anecdotal Evidence

It's not scientific proof, but, for example, I think my purifier, Air Supply, works. I don't believe it's just a coincidence that the number of plain old ordinary head colds I suffer after flying somewhere has dropped from about half the time to around a fourth of the time, a 50% decrease. I use the Ultra-Miniature Air Supply, which costs $150 (the AS 150 MM model) and is said by the manufacturer to be "the world's first wearable air purifier." They say it "reduces pollutants, dust, smoke, pollens, bacteria, perfumes, odors and allergen particles floating in the air" and that it "projects trillions of air cleansing ions from its grill that electronically charge pollutants." The manufacturers, Wein Products, say Air Supply "is not an ionizer or ozone machine but rather a new class of device called Plasma Discharge Ionic Purifiers" and say they were the first to commercialize this technology, with two-year tests at UCLA School of Microbiology, resulting in a "90% reduction in germ colony growth." They say the Good Housekeeping Institute tested it against cat allergen and cigarette smoke and recommended it. You will often see it advertised in in-flight shopping catalogs, but you can order directly from Wein at I wear mine on every flight now.

The AirTamer

Comtech Research, the distributors of the AirTamer A 300 are quick to point out that theirs "is not the personal air purifier that caught fire on Continental Airlines flight 1065." "It is impossible for this situation to happen with the AirTamer," they say. It is a small, gray air ionizer less than the size of a pack of cigarettes (some say it looks like an MP3 player). It's a negative ionizer, say the distributors, Cometech Research, indicating they had looked at other personal air purifiers and "all we found was junk" until finding this one. "Some of them only emitted ozone, or even undesirable positive ions. (No kidding)." It "helps eliminate viruses, pollen, smoke, mold spores, pet dander, dust, dust mites from your personal space," they say, and that it "cleans up to 110% more pollutants than the competition: (namely) 99.01% vs. 46.66%." They say the ozone output is undetectable. You can buy the AirTamer A300 for $119.95 at tel. 866/466-4937 or at

Comtech Research buys its AirTamers from Filter Stream and says the devices are manufactured in China (where else?). You can buy the AirTamer A300 from Filter Stream directly for $59.99 at or at tel. 866/625-3218. If and when my Air Supply unit wears out, I just might switch to Air Tamer, as it looks like a good product, too.

A Filter

The Plane Clean Air device, made in the USA, is a round filter that attaches to the overhead air nozzle, the makers claiming that it "prevents 99.5% of allergens, airborne viruses, bacteria and other particulate matter from the flowing air stream from going into the passengers [sic] face." They say it "meets FAA certification requirements," but I have never seen anyone use it. Each unit comes with two filters and two adhesive gaskets. One gasket and filter will last approximately eight flights, they say, and "under normal usage, the unit will last five years." You'll need to know before boarding whether your aircraft does, indeed, have an overhead air nozzle, as some newer planes do not, in fact. If I knew nothing of such filters and saw the person in the next seat adhering one to his or her air nozzle, I would probably ask for an explanation, and so would, I suspect, an alert flight attendant. The cost per unit is $19.95, for filter and adhesive gasket $6.95. It's made by Allergy Asthma Technology Ltd., Morton Grove, IL, tel. 800/621-5545,

(They also sell a Wearable Air Purifier which looks exactly like my Ultra Miniature Air Supply, made in Japan, they say, by the Wein Company and selling at nearly the same price, $149.95.)

A Cautionary Tale

A Fresh Air Buddy, a device similar to my Air Supply unit and manufactured by its maker, Wein Products, exploded when its non-rechargeable battery was improperly recharged by a passenger before he boarded a Continental flight from Houston to Portland on December 15, 2006. About an hour into the flight, this led to a short circuit in the device, "thermal runaway, battery failure, and an explosion" says the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) report. Wein wants to emphasize that there was no fire. There were warnings in the printed instructions for the unit about trying to recharge non-rechargeable batteries, but the passenger ignored them, apparently. The small battery explosion was scary enough to cause the pilot to make an emergency landing at Colorado Springs. Nobody was injured save the offending passenger, who had a small burn mark on his chest. Distributors stopped sales of the Fresh Air Buddy, and apparently have not resumed them at time of writing (phone calls from the writer to the company were not returned.) Moral: don't fiddle around with trying to recharge the non-rechargeable batteries -- you could get burned.

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