After clicking the “Book Now” button for a flight, there is a whisper of possibility in the air. The possibility of a new adventure, the possibility of making new memories, and the possibility of … catching the flu on your way to a once in a lifetime vacation. Many of the basic cleaning duties of commercial flights slip through the cracks between hectic schedules and delayed flights, leaving behind a breeding ground for bacteria looking to attack the bodies of unsuspecting travelers. Microbiologist and Director of Global Service Care at Reckitt Benckiser Inc., Joe Rubino, has lent some expertise and suggestions within our list of the top 5 “dirtiest” parts of a commercial flight!
5. Seat Pockets: These compartments, which are intended for in-flight magazines and books, sometimes serve as a holding ground for trash and empty food containers during long flights. The previously mentioned in-flight magazines are only replaced every season or quarter. Picture this: many passengers will lick their fingers to turn the stuck together pages of these never cleaned publications. You may want to think twice before flipping through another issue of Sky Mall!
4. Blankets/Pillows: On a long or overnight flight, it’s always nice to have a few of the comforts of home, even something as simple as a pillow and a blanket. But before you snuggle up, you should realize that these items are reused for several flights and used multiple times per day before being washed.
According to Rubino, “A saliva-filled pillow can perhaps cause the spread of a cold or flu, especially if there is more than saliva on it, such as respiratory secretions and mucus.”
Along with the possibility of catching cold and flu viruses, lice and bedbugs can also be lurking between the threads of your fluffy new friend. Avoid carting home any unwanted guests by bringing your own blanket and pillow cover!
3. Tray Tables: From sightings of impromptu diaper changes to passengers choosing a final resting place for their used wads of chewing gum, the Internet is brimming with airplane horror stories. Tray tables are used by the majority of passengers for numerous reasons and can carry food allergen risks, along with the vomit and diarrhea-inducing coliform bacteria if those diaper changing rumors are true!
Rubino advises, “…use a disinfectant wipe like Lysol Disinfecting Wipes to wipe down the tray.”
2. Touch Screens: Found on newer airplanes, the majority of passengers utilize these tap friendly sources of entertainment. Whether just out of curiosity or the desire to cough up $5.99 for an in-flight movie, touch screens serve as a way to pass time, as well as harbor bacteria like Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). MRSA can cause infections throughout the body from the lungs to the heart. Again, disinfectant wipes should be a “must” IF you plan on utilizing this airplane perk!
1. Bathroom: Typically, there are only 1 to 2 bathrooms on a plane carrying 100 to 200 people. With one touch activation sinks, most will shut off before the necessary amount of hand wash time. Also, keep in mind that some may throw bathroom etiquette out the window and skip hand washing altogether.
“Anytime water is present, there is the opportunity for bacteria to survive and grow. I suggest that the travelers use paper towels when they touch anything in the bathroom – door handles, soap pumps, toilet flush button/handle, and sink taps,” says Rubino.
While you may not be able to charter your own private jet, a clean and comfortable experience is expected no matter what class your bank account allows. While it’s not possible to avoid germs completely, it is possible to protect yourself if you must fly commercial. Bring your own in-flight entertainment, clean surfaces with disinfecting wipes, and be extra cautious when utilizing the bathroom on the plane. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to spend their vacation with a margarita instead of a box of Kleenex?