Nothing beats a vacation. And even if air travel isn’t as elegant as it once was, it’s still one of the fastest, safest ways to travel, especially long distances.
But unfortunately, we’re far from the only ones hitching a ride when we catch a plane. And no, we’re not talking about your fellow passengers either.
With so many people crammed into such a small space breathing recycled air—and a new group boarding every few hours—as you can imagine (even if you’d rather not) airplanes are teeming with bacteria. And if you’ve ever caught a cold while flying, there’s a good reason why. Germs are hiding practically everywhere.
Top 10 hiding places for germs on an airplane
While you can’t possibly avoid all of them you can give yourself a fighting chance against these ugly bugs by knowing which spots are the worst offenders. Researchers have measured the number of bugs per square inch on just about every surface of airplanes and found the following 10 spots to be the top hiding places for germs on an airplane.
1. Bathroom locks:
Both in airports and on the airplane, bathroom locks are just as disgusting as you’d imagine them to be. They’re covered in bacteria. Since you can’t unlock the door and then wash your hands on an airplane, use a clean tissue or fresh square of toilet paper when you touch them.
2. The flush button:
Unsurprisingly, the flush button in the airplane bathroom is a breeding ground for germs. Touch it with one just finger and be sure to scrub your hands thoroughly before you return to your seat.
3. Blankets and pillows:
On long flights—especially international ones—some airlines still offer blankets and pillows. Politely decline.
Typically they aren’t laundered or changed out after each flight, just fluffed, folded, and put back into plastic bags. In other words, you’re not the first person to use it, which means you’re sharing the germs of the folks who used it before you. Bring your own travel sleep accessories.
4. Seat pockets:
Most of us don’t give the seat pocket a second thought, but it turns out we should be. People use seat pocket to hold all kinds of things from used tissues to dirty diapers and used air sickness bags.
Read through the emergency procedures folder then go wash your hands and don’t touch the seat pocket for the rest of the trip.
5. The inflight magazine:
Since you’re not touching the seat pocket during your flight this one should go without saying. But just to be clear don’t touch the inflight magazine that lives in that gross seat pocket either.
The magazine doesn’t just rub up against everything that gets shoved in there, it also gets flipped through by every single person who ever sits in that seat, all month long. Inflight magazines don’t get changed out until the beginning of the next month so that’s a lot of germ-filled hands touching those pages.
Do yourself a favor and bring your own reading material.
6. Touchscreen entertainment:
Many airplanes now feature touchscreen movies and televisions, which can make long flights so much more pleasant. But keep in mind every person who sat in your seat before you has had their hands on that screen too. You can skip the inflight entertainment and opt for a book instead.
But if the thought of a long flight without some electronic distraction is too much for you to handle, you have a couple of options. Most touchscreens will operate fine with a layer of tissue between your finger and the screen. You can give the screen a quick swipe with a botanical-based disinfectant wipe before using it (we like Clean Well brand). Or if you have a pair of touchscreen gloves for the winter bring one along and use that to keep your hands clear of the germs.
After using the screen try not to touch your face, mouth, or eyes.
7. Your luggage:
Even your own belongings aren’t exempt from becoming petri dishes when you travel by air. There are, of course, all the surfaces your bags come in contact with while traveling to—and through—the airport to check in.
But that’s just the beginning of your luggage’s exposure to bacteria. In one trip, checked bags are touched, on average, by 4 baggage handlers, 2 cab or shuttle drivers, 1 hotel bellhop, and 1 airline gate agent. While there’s not a whole lot you can do to keep your luggage clean, you can wipe down the handles with your favorite leather, vinyl, or fabric cleaner occasionally.
8. Seatbelt buckle:
Another bacteria hotspot that we ALL end up touching, but seldom think about, is the seatbelt buckle. Every person who sits in that seat, even the ones who skip reading the magazine or using the seat pockets, had to touch the seatbelt buckle.
Swipe it with a botanical disinfecting wipe to get it a little cleaner than it was when you sat down.
9. Overhead vent:
Airplanes can get really hot and stuffy places, so opening that overhead vent can be a necessity. But if you end up needing to open the vent on your next flight keep in mind that it’s one of the filthiest spots on the plane. Be sure to use a tissue when touching it.
10. Tray tables:
If you thought the bathroom was the dirtiest spot on a plane think again. It turns out the number one most contaminated spot on airplanes are tray tables. In fact, when the bacteria on tray tables were measured the CFU—a measurement scientists use to calculate the number of bugs per square inch—was practically off the charts at 2000.
As soon as you get settled into your seat wipe the tray down thoroughly with a botanical disinfectant wipe.
Listen, we’re not going to stop traveling by airplane and we surely don’t expect you too either. But if you want to avoid germs on an airplane the next time you do have to catch a flight follow our lead to cut back on your bacteria exposure and don’t forget to pack your disinfecting wipes!