Lonely Planet Writer

Stay healthy: avoid these bacteria hotspots on a plane

Scientists have revealed the dirtiest spots on an airplane. But, be warned: once you know this information, you cannot un-know it.

Airbus cabin.
Airbus cabin. Image by Joao Carlos Medau / CC BY 2.0

To determine the filthiest places on a plane, a microbiologist collected 26 samples from surfaces in four separate airplanes and five airports, then analysed the size of the bacteria populations (or colony-forming units; CFU) per square inch. The results may or may not surprise you – depending on how much time you spend pondering these things while trapped in your 18-inch seat at 36,000ft.

Though grubby, the toilet flush button is not the dirtiest spot on an airplane. No, that distinction goes to your tray table. Surprised? Apparently you shouldn’t be. You see, everyone touches the tray table, and spreads all manner of bacteria-carrying items all over it. Then they pop it back up for landing where it stays until the next unsuspecting passenger flips it – and all that percolating bacteria – back down to spread their bacteria-carrying stuff all over. Appetising, right?

But that’s not all. Other bacteria hotspots included the in-flight magazine (everyone thumbs through them), blankets and pillows, the seat pockets and touch-screen entertainment systems. So just all the things that make a 10-hour flight bearable.

It’s not all bad news though. Scientists have some tips for avoiding the worst bacteria hot spots: Don’t use anything you don’t need to, wipe down everything with disinfectant wipes, use hand sanitiser regularly, and bring your own entertainment. Or, perhaps, look into that cruise instead.