Just “Plane” Gross: What You Can Do to Beat Germs During Air Travel

As summer kicks into high gear, many people will be taking to the skies for vacation getaways. We’ll be the first to admit we don’t particularly love traveling by plane. While it gets us from here to there in record time, there can be a lot of hassles, from baggage fees to the icky shoe removal policy while going through security. Now researchers have a new reason for us to loathe air travel. Research shows that infectious, disease-causing bacteria and airplane germs can live for weeks on most airplane surfaces.

plane taking off

Find out where germs lurk on planes and how long they live.
Image Source: Flickr user Joao Carlos Medau

So, Just How Gross Are Airplanes?

In a study funded by the FAA, in partnership with Delta Airlines, a team of microbiologists from Auburn University in Alabama discovered that pathogens like MRSA and E. coli were building colonies on armrests, tray tables, window shades, and toilet handles. These nasty bugs could lead to infection or even kidney failure, says lead study author Kiril Vaglenov.

The most germ-riddled spot on the plane? That seat pocket where the in-flight instructions are held. MRSA survived for 168 hours (a full week) on that piece of cloth. “I wouldn’t touch that pocket,” Vaglenov said, adding: “I think that should be replaced with something less porous.” Comparably, E.coli bacteria lived four days on the airplane’s armrest, three days on the window shade, and two days on the toilet handle.

Delta spokeswoman Lindsay McDuff says that all surfaces of their airplanes are disinfected nightly and prior to every departure. Of course, that point is debatable by people working on the front lines. One anonymous flight attendant for Southwest Airlines reported: “Those blankets and pillows? Yeah, those just get refolded and stuffed back in the bins between flights. [The] only fresh ones I ever saw were on an originating first flight in the morning in a provisioning city. Also, if you have ever spread your peanuts on your tray and eaten, or really just touched your tray at all, you have more than likely ingested baby poo. I saw more dirty diapers laid out on those trays than food. And those trays, yeah, never saw them cleaned or sanitized once.”

nose spray

Maintain hydrated, healthy sinuses to keep infections out of the body.

What Can We Do to Avoid These Filthy Airplane Germs?

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, says the study is “overly meticulous” and that we needn’t panic about the germs on the armrest. The real worry, he says, are all the passengers with cold and flu viruses. In fact, a separate study found that you’re 100 times more likely to develop a cold after flying than you are in everyday life. Dr. Schaffner recommends simply washing your hands to defend yourself from these worries.

WebMD also advises airline passengers to:

– Avoid directly touching known contaminated hotspots — like the handle on the bathroom door. Use a paper towel.

– If your flight’s not jam-packed, ask to switch seats if you’re next to a cougher or a sneezer. Keep in mind, though, that the particles of a sneeze could easily travel 10 rows. You could always wear one of those creepy face masks for ultimate protection, experts say.

– Use saline spray before and after a flight to keep your nasal passages hydrated, which boosts your ability to beat infections.

– Flush out your sinuses with a Neti pot upon landing.

– Take a daily multivitamin or Vitamin C supplement.

– Bring your own pillow and blanket.

– Drink a lot of bottled water to flush out any toxins. Skip dehydrating drinks, like caffeine or alcohol.

– While scientists generally frown upon antibacterial wipes, a little wipe-down is warranted in this situation, Forbes says.

– Keep your air vents open to blow germs out of your airspace.

 Don’t Forget to Pack the SteriShoe UV Shoe Sanitizer!

In addition to packing the aforementioned items to keep airplane germs away on your next flight, you’ll also want to bring a SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer along for the ride. Our patented technology rids the insides of your shoes from 99.9% of fungi, bacteria, and viruses within one 45-minute cycle. Keeping pathogens off your feet will prevent germs from being transferred between environments or infecting your body via a cut, blister, hangnail, or other small aberration on the foot. Shoe sanitizers are especially recommended for people who have had plantar’s warts, toenail fungus infections, athlete’s foot, or diabetic foot ulcers. Try one risk-free for 30 days!