Experiences, information, Travel

Planes: The Surprising Dirtiest Surfaces That Wreak Havoc On Your Health


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You’d think after passing the headache that is security and check-in at an airport, you’d have nothing to worry about besides getting to your gate on time and having your fully charged phone ready at hand.

That’s a lie.

The gut-wrenching fact is your next long-haul journey will be infested with bacteria, crawling with micro-organisms and microbes feeding into the seats and all over the windows. I mean, who really wipes them down after some adult combs out their 4-year old’s hair with nits crawling over the strands, or after that brunette banker drinks beyond her limit and pees on her seat, and were does the old fat fella leave his boogers on that 6am flight from Seoul? You can’t park a commercial aircraft into one of those hand car wash places, with 13 people man-handling every corner of your car, clutching sprays and hoovers and wipes. Where do planes go? How are the tiny spaces they push us into cleaned?

The only thing we can do is be aware of it and come prepared. With a little research, we’ve nailed down the shockingly grossest places on a plane. Some of the tested spaces are so germy that it puts you at a serious health risk.

As per the Suns Independent Investigation, and during 20 separate flights on various airlines, five spots were swabbed and recorded – the seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket and washroom handle.

More than 100 samples were sent to a lab in the University of Guelph to be tested for various bacteria, as well as yeast, mold and E.coli and almost half of the surfaces tested had sky high levels of all that would put a person at risk of serious infection.

A new study revealed that the headrest harbors more germs than anywhere else. They are by far a whole 10 miles, the dirtiest part of the aircraft.

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Its Right Infront Of You: Table trays have also been found to be very dirty on-board planes.

It’s ridiculous really- to think that the dirtiest places on a plane require us to wear something short of a hazmat suit, trapped in a moving container, cruising at 28-35,000ft. The worst place is the headrest though, which, along with the seat pocket, tested for E.coli  – a type of bacteria common in human and animal intestines, which means it likely came from faecal contamination. While most types of E.coli are harmless, some can cause serious food poisoning and infection. E.coli bacteria is a common cause of cystitis – an infection of the bladder and some types of E.coli can cause gastrointestinal infections and severe illness. One common strain called E.coli 0157 produces such toxins and is usually responsible for the outbreaks that are covered by the news.

Classic symptoms linked to this strain, that include severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhoea that may be bloody.

While the microbiologist was shocked at the level of bacteria on the plane surfaces, he was mainly confused at how faecal matter could get onto areas like the inside of seat pockets.

What concerns me more is the presence of Hemolytic bacteria – typically associated with strep throat- that is found on some head rests, because of the ease with which it could be passed onto a new passenger.

Another microbiologist collected 26 samples from four different flights to find a median average of 2,155 CFU (colony-forming units) per square inch of table tops. (CFU is the unit used to measure the number of bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.) Compare that to 265 CFU on the lavatory flush button, 230 on the seat belt buckle and 285 on the overhead air vent, the table tops look like a myth to go anywhere near, let alone eat a whole meal ontop of.

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The news will come as no surprise to flight attendants, who have found everything from used nappies to tampons in the back of seats.

One of the main issues is the lack of time that staff must clean the planes in between flights, which is why tests found such high levels of mold and staph on the tray tables. As a result, travellers are warned against sleeping with their heads on the tables or eating anything off the table itself.

WARNING. WARNING. WARNING.

Don’t eat, don’t touch and don’t breathe on the table trays.  Bring your own blanket. Bring your own headrest or a clean blow up pillow and definitely wear a loose hooded disposable jumper for the flight. Pack hand sanitizer and plenty of anti-bacterial wet wipes. Wipe anything before you touch it. Don’t stick your fingers in random holes and don’t move around too much. Anything short of a hazmat suit in Economy class, means a long and very boring, very dirty journey across multiple channels. Just because your naked eye cant see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Stay healthy!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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