I once had a friend who would wear disposable gloves every time she pumped gas. I kid you not. And while at the time my other friends and I would playfully prod her about what we perceived to be her excessively germaphobic tendencies, discovering the dirtiest surfaces on airplanes and in airports may just have turned me into a believer (not to mention an investor in disposable gas pump gloves, which are apparently a thing now... sorry, old friend). Sure, we all know how quickly germs can spread during travel, so we do our due diligence by stocking up on Emergen-C and antibacterial wipes before long flights. But often our preparations are all for naught and, after reading a microbiologists' findings of samples from five airports and four flights, I can see why.
To get to the bottom of bacteria prevalence on and around airplanes — and perhaps to spike sales of bubble suits — Travelmath.com enlisted a microbiologist to take a bunch of slides and report back on the dirtiest, most germ-riddled surfaces unwitting travelers come into contact with as they soar majestically through the skies. Prepare to be entirely skeeved out, because, as it were, it ain't pretty. At all. In fact, it's probably the furthest from pretty you could imagine.
Surprisingly, bringing up the rear of the bunch is bathroom stall locks in airports, which contain 70 CFU (colony forming units of bacteria) per square inch. To put this into context, your cell phone has 27 CFU/square inch. But unfortunately, it gets far ickier from there. Seatbelt buckles, overhead air vents, and lavatory flush buttons made up the middle of the study, coming in at 230, 265, and 285 CFU/sq. in., respectively. Seriously, though. I will never flush a toilet with anything but my foot again. Although, come to think of it, I suppose foot flushers like myself are probably perpetuating the problem... moving on. Coming in second place with 1240 CFU/sq.in. — and I truly hate to do this to you — are drinking fountain buttons. Gross, I know. Can't a gal get a sip of ice cold agua at the airport without catching botulism? That happens, right?)
If you thought that was the worst of it though, well, you'd be wrong. The dirtiest place on an airplane, with an impressively shocking 2155 CFU/sq.in. is none other than the place from which food is consumed — the tray table. Woe is us, you guys, woe is us! It's like the universe doesn't want us to enjoy the delectable pre-packaged snacks we stash in our carry-ons to quell off hunger until we're back on terra firma.
If it makes you feel any better, and I'm sure it won't if you have pets, tray tables have got nothing on pet bowls, which boast a whopping 306,000 CFU/sq. in. And, since we're friends, I've compiled a list of other horrible, awful, icky things that will totally make you forget about your new air-travel phobia... until your next flight, at least.
1. Breakfast Will Never Be the Same
Who needs cream cheese? Bacteria colonies make a great spread for half-eaten bagels in mid-transit on the subway.
2. Kissing Is the Worst
OK, so it's kind of the best. But this is seriously bunk, y'all. It sure is hard to get your swerve on if all your are wondering is how many microbes are being swapped in your spit.
3. What Lurks in Libraries
In addition to filling your brain with knowledge when you visit the public library, you could quite possibly be mingling with millions of bacteria. This wipe shows the gag-worthy results of cleaning the keyboard of a computer at one such public institution.
4. Gum... Enough Said
Of all the things to haphazardly slap on a wall and deem sightseeing worthy, why on Earth would anyone choose chewed gum? I bet locals just sit around and watch tourists get sick from huddling around this gross wall of gum.
5. You've Got to Be Kitten Me
Listen, we all love our four-legged friends. But when you consider the pet bowl germ findings above coupled with the fact that pet toys have 19,000 CFU/sq. in. according to Travelmath.com, we have to assume our pets are filthy little animals. Albeit cute ones.
6. Just Say No to Tester Lipstick
How, I ask you, how is this a thing? Do these people wipe the test tube down beforehand and I just miss it? Or do they really just not care? My brain is boggled.
7. You Kiss Your Mama with That Mouth?
I understand the folklore, people. I also understand that vandals like to pee on the Blarney Stone, and I'm far more superstitious about that.
So, basically, the moral of the story is to Purell the heck out of anything you touch while traveling (or doing anything, really), lest invisible germ colonies swarm you and swallow you whole. Well, not quite but you get the picture.