Yes, You Can Get Bed Bugs On Airplanes — Here’s How To Protect Yourself

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Despite being called bed bugs, you can pick up these will-definitely-survive-the-apocalypse bloodsucking bugs anywhere. This is why it's important to know how to avoid getting bed bugs on an airplane. Seriously, nowhere is safe, and getting bed bugs on an airplane can quickly turn your vacation into nightmare. While the name bed bugs makes it sound like the only place these bloodsuckers can attack you is in bed, you can actually pick up bed bugs at movie theaters, on public transportation, in hotels, and on airplanes.

New Jersey news outlet FOX5NY reported that passengers on flights from Newark Liberty International Airport bound for India complained that they had some unwelcome seat mates. Yes, bed bugs bit people on this 17-hour flight, and one family claimed their infant daughter was covered in bites by the time the plane landed in Mumbai. While Air India said on Twitter that it's dealing with the problem, the affected passengers — some of whom tweeted that they paid $10,000 to fly their families to India in business class — are in for a stressful few days of cleaning their belongings and treating themselves for bed bug bites. This hardly makes that extra legroom, warm cookies, and free drinks worth it.

Due to the rise of international travel to places where bed bugs are still prevalent, and a ban on the pesticide DDT in the United States, bed bugs are back, and they're flying first class. If you're not in the know about bed bugs, these small appleseed-shaped bugs were rampant in the early part of the 20th century, but were mostly eradicated in the U.S. by the time you were born. If you ask your grandparents about bed bugs, they'll almost certainly have a story. In fact, this is likely the origin of that terrible "goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" saying.

This isn't the first time bed bugs have been reported on planes, so it's important to know how to protect yourself. Before you vow to never fly again, consider this. If you want to reduce your risk of bringing bed bugs home to zero, you'll have to live in a home with no shared walls, never leave that home, and never invite anyone over. This is because bed bugs are skilled hitchhikers and can attach themselves to your suitcase, pant leg, shoes, and more, according to Cornell University. The good news is that bed bugs aren't known to transmit disease, the university reported.

The bad news is that they only eat blood, the bites can present as large itchy welts, and bed bugs are notoriously hard to get rid of. Trust me: I unknowingly moved into a bed bug-infested building in 2007 and it was, hands down, the worst experience of my life. However, if you want to avoid picking up bed bugs on your next flight or in your hotel, the old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is the best advice.

One of the first things you'll want to do is to get a light colored, hardshell suitcase, which allows you to easily see if anything is on your bag. You can also wipe hardshell luggage down with an alcohol wipe immediately after exiting the plane or collecting your gear at baggage claim. On its blog, Scherzinger Pest Control advised that you also bring your own pillow and blanket to reduce the risk of being bitten by bed bugs while flying.

Even if you don't get bitten, if you cover up with a blanket that has bed bugs (or bed bug eggs) on it, you can bring them with you to your next location. Inspecting your airplane-issued blanket isn't enough. While adult bed bugs are about the size of an appleseed, babies are too small to be seen with the naked eye. "When you de-board the plane, put your pillow and blanket in a sealable plastic bag in case bed bugs have hitched a ride," Scherzinger Pest Control advised. "Don't open the bag again until you can wash and/or dry the contents on a hot setting."

You might also want to wear light-colored clothes while flying so you can immediately see if anything is crawling on you. When you pack your carry-on bag, put all of your items in a plastic bag before throwing them in your tote. Once you get home, wipe down your suitcase before putting it in your car, and don't bring your suitcase inside of your house. Instead, remove all items and wash them immediately. Then, inspect all of your luggage and wipe it down with alcohol before bringing it into your home.

Put your suitcases in plastic bags before storing them, and never keep luggage under your bed. This is because you want to keep bed bugs as far away from their food source (your body) as possible. "Open your luggage and immediately wash and dry all clothing on hot in order to kill bed bugs. If there are items that can’t be washed but can go in the dryer, dry them on hot as well. If you aren’t sure whether or not something can be heated in the dryer, consider freezing it," Scherzinger Pest Control advised.

"If your luggage can’t be heated or frozen, store it in sealed plastic bags for approximately two weeks and then vacuum it thoroughly inside and out. You may also be well advised to use a stiff brush and hot soapy water to scrub out any cracks and crevices in order to dislodge eggs and dead bed bugs."

I know that this is all starting to sound like a lot of extra work, however if you do bring bed bugs home with you, you're going to spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of them. What's more, bed bugs take an emotional toll and can induce anxiety and depression, according to a study published in the journal BMJ Open.

This is because bed bugs only eat blood, and they can live up to a year without feeding, according to Scientific American. They tend to eat at night and hide during the day. If you wake up covered in bites in the morning, and frantically search your bed for the source, you might not find anything right away. And, by the time you do actually see the bed bugs, you could be dealing with a major infestation. Check out Wiki How for a step-by-step guide on how to check for bed bugs.

If you do spot bed bugs on an airplane or in your hotel, report it immediately. You can also check the Bed Bug Registry before booking your hotel to see if there have been any reports of bed bugs (you can also check apartments on the same website before signing a lease). Unfortunately, reporting the pests isn't enough. You're going to have to go full-on Sons of Anarchy to make sure you don't bring them home with you.

Finally, if you do find that you've brought bed bugs home with you after traveling, contact a pest control company right away. In many states, if you're a renter, your landlord is responsible for providing and paying for this service. Seriously, don't wait to tackle the problem. Bed bugs lay one egg a day, according to Scientific American. While that might not seem like much, because they are so skilled at hiding, you could soon be hosting a lot of bed bugs and their extended families. #TheMoreYouKnow