If you've ever gotten off a plane and felt the tingle of a cold coming on, there's a good explanation: airplanes are notoriously germ-y and, especially during the holiday season, increasingly crowded. These are the dirtiest places in an airplane, just in time for your holiday flight home. Don't worry, you still have plenty of time to stock up on hand sanitizer.
For those of us living and working far away from our hometowns, a hallmark of the holiday season is the inevitably, uh, horrible trek home. Crazy highway traffic, long lines at the airport, delayed flights — there's a reason so many Christmas movies feature travel disasters as central plot points. It's a wonder any of us make it home to see the unwrapping of presents.
This year, 6.4 million Americans will take to the skies between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1, according to a recent report by AAA. It's the fourth consecutive year of holiday air travel growth. So, no, you're not imagining things: those security lines really are getting longer. And, according to TravelMath, dirtier.
The travel-centric website recently sent a microbiologist to five different airports and onto four flights, where they collected a total of 26 samples. After sending off the germ-laden tests to a lab, they analyzed the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch. CFUs, by the way, are individual colonies of bacteria. So when I say that your cellphone harbors an average of 27 CFUs per square inch, I'm not talking about 27 individual germs. I'm talking 27 communities. Neighborhoods. Apartment buildings. Of bacteria.
The results prompted what I feel is a fair question: Where can one purchase a last-minute Hazmat suit and can one wear said Hazmat suit upon a flight?
Ick ick ick.
Studies have estimated that up to 20 percent of commercial airplane passengers develop a respiratory infection within a week of flying. It is a wonder that number is not 100 percent.
Now, the good news is that all 26 samples were negative for fecal coliforms like E. coli, which are not only contagious but carry the potential for far more serious infections than a head cold.
OK. Alright. You got your Lysol spray ready? Are you prepared to see the results? Let's dive in.
Yes, the tray table, upon which I personally used to nap during flights and onto which we dump our complimentary peanuts, was found to harbor the greatest number of CFUs per square inch: 2,155. For comparison, the average household toilet seat has about 172 CFUs per square inch. Help.
In the breakdown of their study, TravelMath posited that increased pressure on flight crews to minimize on-boarding and off-boarding turnover means bathrooms get sanitized for every flight but individual trays do not (they're generally cleaned once a day). The solution? Just don't touch your tray. If you gotta, bring baby wipes and clean your hands immediately afterwards.
Overhead Air Vent
An indication of how crowded flights have become? The overhead air vent button is the second most germ-laded spot in an airplane cabin. At 285 CFUs per square inch, it's grosser than the bathroom stall locks in an airport. Honestly, my dudes, bring your own heckin' travel fan. I have no idea whether that's allowed but there's no way I'm touching that ceiling button again.
Lavatory Flush Button
Predictably, the next-grossest spot on TravelMath's list was the bathroom flush button, at 265 CFUs per square inch. With airplanes becoming increasingly booked to capacity and seats shrinking (airlines call it "utilization of space," but passengers know it as "Unless I'm the second person to board, there will be no overheard storage space left"), it's not wonder that two bathroom for dozens of people results in some germ-y germs.
I'm not sure how I feel about seatbelts, which are required and which every single person should be wearing at all times during a flight, are only the fourth germiest spot in the cabin, clocking in at 230 CFUs per square inch. Why are tray tables and the A/C button grosser?!