The dirtiest places on an airplane revealed – swabs show tray tables and overhead air vents are riddled with the most germs

11/09/2015

In the nooks and crannies of your home and even your desk at work is a widespread area of living bacteria. But a new study has now revealed airports and airplanes ‘are dirtier than your home’.

To arrive at their conclusion, researchers at the online travel calculator, Travel Math, sent a microbiologist to take samples from five airports and on board four flights.

And their results revealed it is the surface that our food rests on – the tray table – that was the dirtiest surface of all the locations and surfaces tested.

Authors of the small study, said it is advisable to ‘eliminate any direct contact your food has with the table’, to reduce the risk of transferring bacteria into the mouth.

A microbiologist took swabs on four flights and at five airports to ascertain where the most bacteria lurks

The overhead air vent and seatbelt buckles rounded off the top four, dirtiest spots on an airplane. The numbers presented are the median of the four or five samples from each location

It comes after another recent study found luggage comes into contact with up to 80 million bacteria before it even reaches the hotel room.

The research on behalf of Aqaint sanitiser found your suitcase is handled by an average of four baggage handlers, two taxi drivers, a hotel porter and one member of airline staff.

And with the average person carries more than 10 million bacteria on their hands, in comparison with just 33,000 found on public surfaces, luggage alone can come into contact with more germs than travellers would expect.

Once the swabs had been taken, the microbiologist placed them into sterile liquid to preserve the specimens.

Samples were collected from five different airports and four different flights between two major carriers.

Scientists examined each sample to establish the number of units of coliforms – a broad class of bacteria, which can include faeces.

Their results revealed the dirtiest part of the plane was the tray table with 2,155 units of colony-forming units of bacteria in a square inch, followed by the overhead air vent, the toilet flush button and the seatbelt buckle.

In airports, the grimiest spots tested were drinking fountain buttons and bathroom locks.

This is a good thing; while not discrediting the importance of cleaning all major surfaces between flights, bathrooms have the most potential for faecal coliforms to spread.’

They noted airline staff are under more pressure than ever to ensure passengers quickly de-board arriving flights to enable a quick turnaround for the next flight, to maximise profits.

As a result tray tables are often only cleaned at the end of the day.

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