My holiday starts the minute I arrive at the airport. I’m contemplating the duty-free treasure trove, getting a prosecco at who-cares-what-time-cause-i’m-at-the-lounge and stocking up on my personal crack of reading material, AKA, magazines. I have my light carry on, and typically I’ve checked a bag. Or two. One thing I DO NOT EVER have is my bed pillow from home.
We’ve all seen them, right? Schlepping their fluffy pillow through the airport, clutching it against their chest as if it were a newborn babe. Perhaps it’s a shield of protection against the whims of Zeus, god of the skies. Except it’s not. It’s the place where you lay your head every night and surrender to the Sandman, and you’re about to bring it into a place that’s dirtier than even the dirtiest corner of your home. That’d be an airplane.
Did you know that there are no cleaning regulations every airline is required to follow? That’s a downer, hey? Most cleaning is done by third-party cleaning services that specialize in a quick turnaround, and not on thoroughly cleaning bacteria-infested surfaces. Time is money, and that skybird needs to be up and moving, lest it’s dead weight. Generally, trash is collected and disposed of, surfaces may receive a quick wipe and the bathrooms are ‘sanitized’ and readied for the next flight. There really is no difference in seating category, i.e. economy versus business versus first when it comes to cleaning.
According to USA Today, it’s a closely guarded secret as to how often and how well planes receive a good hygienic clean. Industry standard is after 30 days of service or every 100 flying hours, whichever comes first. I mean, ick. And speaking of ick, Huffpost reports that about 30% of flyers don’t wash their hands after going to the loo. Seriously, people, c’mon.
The travel-centered website, Travelmath, sent microbiologists to five US airports to test surfaces on four flights for microbes and collected 26 samples. These little germ bombs were shipped off for testing so that the number of Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) per square inch could be determined. Oh and hey, CFU’s are individual colonies of bacteria. So when I tell you that on average your TV remote has 23 CFU’s per square inch, that’s 23 colonies/communities/neighborhoods/apartment blocks of little bacteria families living on your clicker. I kid you not.
Let’s start with something to which we can compare Travelmath’s numbers. The much-maligned toilet seat. Not in a public bathroom, just the one in your home. The one you use on the daily. It has an average of 172 CFU’s existing happily on its surface. Now consider, an airplane tray table has…..(you are going to DIE……) 2155 CFU’s living their best life right where you put your food, and your magazines, and your iPad and of course, your pillow. Ewwww. The air vent above you has 285 CFU’s, the flush button on the lavatory has 265 and the buckle, that which you can’t not touch, has 230.
What we know is that airplanes are germy, what with their recycled air and allocation of 1 bathroom to every 50 people (on average.) To keep yourself healthy, bring on some Clorox Wipes and hand sanitizer. Be sensible about what you touch (additional harbingers of other people’s bacteria include in-flight magazines, the plastic window shades, the seat pockets, and the overhead bin latches.)
One last thing, for crying out loud, wash those hands after you use the loo!
“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.”–Al Gore