5 of the Dirtiest Places on a Plane — and 5 Ways to Avoid Them

by Laura Powell

5 of the Dirtiest Places on a Plane — and 5 Ways to Avoid Them

by Laura Powell

Given the number of people sleeping, eating, and breathing on flights every day, it’s not surprising that airplane cabins have germs. And while right now airlines are taking extra precautions, it's good to be careful. Here, the dirtiest places on a plane and how to avoid them.

Given the number of people sleeping, eating, and breathing on flights every day, it’s not surprising that airplane cabins have germs. And while right now airlines are taking extra precautions, it's good to be careful. Here, the dirtiest places on a plane and how to avoid them.

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Airplane taking off / iStock/Jag_cz
Back seat pocket
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The Problem: The Seatback Pocket

Think about it. What do you put into a seatback pocket? Likely things like old water bottles, used tissues (ew!), and food wrappers. Seatback pockets are also the go-to repository for airsickness bags. That’s why you should think twice about using the pocket to store food or beverages. Also, realize that the stuff that’s already in there when you get on the plane (the magazine and safety instructions) may be riddled with bacteria, too.

Think about it. What do you put into a seatback pocket? Likely things like old water bottles, used tissues (ew!), and food wrappers. Seatback pockets are also the go-to repository for airsickness bags. That’s why you should think twice about using the pocket to store food or beverages. Also, realize that the stuff that’s already in there when you get on the plane (the magazine and safety instructions) may be riddled with bacteria, too.

Seat back pocket
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The Solution: Get a Seatback Organizer

Get a seatback organizer that fits into the pocket and put your stuff inside that. Wash the organizer when you get home. Short of that, line the seatback pocket with a plastic bag.

Get a seatback organizer that fits into the pocket and put your stuff inside that. Wash the organizer when you get home. Short of that, line the seatback pocket with a plastic bag.

Airplane tray table
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The Problem: The Tray Table

A website called TravelMath recently hired a microbiologist to take microbe samples from various spots around the plane (the seatback pocket wasn’t included). The scientist was looking for the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch. The more units, the dirtier the surface. Of the places sampled, the germiest was the tray table, with 2,155 CFUs per square inch. Compare that to the 172 CFU average found on the average household toilet seat or the 27 CFU found on cell phones.

A website called TravelMath recently hired a microbiologist to take microbe samples from various spots around the plane (the seatback pocket wasn’t included). The scientist was looking for the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch. The more units, the dirtier the surface. Of the places sampled, the germiest was the tray table, with 2,155 CFUs per square inch. Compare that to the 172 CFU average found on the average household toilet seat or the 27 CFU found on cell phones.

Tray guard
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The Solution: Buy a Tray Table Guard

Buy a tray table guard or fashion your own out of a piece of fabric. One company claims to have a product made with patented copper and ion technology that actively attacks harmful microbes on the table.

Buy a tray table guard or fashion your own out of a piece of fabric. One company claims to have a product made with patented copper and ion technology that actively attacks harmful microbes on the table.

Airplane seat buckle
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The Problem: The Seatbelt Buckle

While the 230 CFUs found on seatbelt buckles might seem small in comparison to tray tables, that is still more than what's on your toilet seat. Since you probably wouldn’t want to eat food off your toilet, you’ll want to sanitize your hands before touching food after you buckle-up.

While the 230 CFUs found on seatbelt buckles might seem small in comparison to tray tables, that is still more than what's on your toilet seat. Since you probably wouldn’t want to eat food off your toilet, you’ll want to sanitize your hands before touching food after you buckle-up.

Airplane sink
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The Solution: Wash your hands frequently

If you can’t wash, douse yourself with hand sanitizer (you might also want to bring along hand lotion, as the alcohol in the sanitizer is quite dehydrating).

If you can’t wash, douse yourself with hand sanitizer (you might also want to bring along hand lotion, as the alcohol in the sanitizer is quite dehydrating).

Airplane overhead vent
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The Problem: The Overhead Air Vent

When the TravelMath microbiologist tackled the overhead air vent button, it measured in at 285 CFUs. That’s not even taking into account the microbes that may be running through the ventilation system, which spews re-circulated air. That said, you might be better off avoiding the vent altogether.

When the TravelMath microbiologist tackled the overhead air vent button, it measured in at 285 CFUs. That’s not even taking into account the microbes that may be running through the ventilation system, which spews re-circulated air. That said, you might be better off avoiding the vent altogether.

Flying
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The Solution: Consider Bringing a Magic Wand

Battery-operated ultra-violet sanitizing wands eradicate micro-organisms with a zap of light. Your seat mates may think you are crazy as you wave the wand over the tray table and into the seatback pocket. Let them laugh. Better yet, offer to do the wave over their germy parts and make new friends.

Battery-operated ultra-violet sanitizing wands eradicate micro-organisms with a zap of light. Your seat mates may think you are crazy as you wave the wand over the tray table and into the seatback pocket. Let them laugh. Better yet, offer to do the wave over their germy parts and make new friends.

Airplane lavatory
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The Problem: The Lavatory

This one is a no-brainer. Consider the outside and inside doorknobs, the lock, the flush panel, and whatever else is in there. Knowing the nature of the loo in general, it does makes one question the mental health of those who use said privies to join the Mile-High Club.

This one is a no-brainer. Consider the outside and inside doorknobs, the lock, the flush panel, and whatever else is in there. Knowing the nature of the loo in general, it does makes one question the mental health of those who use said privies to join the Mile-High Club.

Opening a door with a tissue
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The Solution: Use a Tissue

Use a tissue to open and close the lavatory door and lock, and always wash after flushing.

Use a tissue to open and close the lavatory door and lock, and always wash after flushing.

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