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5 of the Nastiest, Germiest Places on an Airplane

Don’t touch these all-too-common airplane touchpoints—at least not without a sanitary wipe in hand.

Do you travel with disinfectant wipes in your carryon luggage? I didn’t used to, until I started reading about just how germy planes can be—now I bring a full load with me on every flight, including the one I plan to take to get to Toronto for the American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting this weekend. Four of these top five grossout areas I knew about before reading this Time Health article, but one was new to me. So here, in order, are the targets you need to start wiping to prevent your next trip from landing you in a sick bed: 

1. Tray tables. This one was a bit of a “duh” for me. I mean, I’ve seen people change diapers on their tray tables (which is a whole ‘nother level of ick), but just little (and big) fingers that regularly travel from mouth to tray table can provide a sticky level of yuck. According to the article, tray tables have more than eight times the bacteria per square inch than the toilet flush handles. Among the squirmy passengers you share your tray table with are cold viruses, norovirus, and MRSA. The flight crews may not have time to do a thorough clean, so if you can’t avoid them altogether, BYODW and use it prodigiously.

2. Air vents and seatbelt buckles. Again, wherever hands tend to go, germs follow (and linger), and we all adjust both these items regularly. Swab ‘em down to be on the safe side.

3. The heads. Sure, they get cleaned, but with the traffic airplane restrooms get, you just know they get pretty nasty by the end of even a relatively short flight (and for goodness sakes, wear your shoes in there people!). The Time article quotes University of Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba as saying, “It’s hard to beat the restroom” when it comes to germs. I usually tuck a wipe or two into my pocket to swab down the door, faucet, and flush handle, but worst case, the article recommends using a paper towel on the door handle on the way out.

4. Seatback pocket. Try to avoid these little portable garbage cans if at all possible, since their soft cloth surfaces can harbor MRSA for up to a week, according to the Time article.

5. Aisle seats. This is the one that surprised me, though not so much now that they have been brought to my attention. Everyone touches those seat backs as they walk to and from the lavs, so of course they’re going to collect something nasty. While it’d be an exercise in futility to keep wiping your seat back if you have an aisle seat, I’m going to try to avoid touching it, and if it’s unavoidable, use hand sanitizer after.

Then, of course, there’s everything else about your trip to worry about, from the hotel remote (seriously, that thing needs sanitizing) to session room doors. While we can’t go completely germaphobic a la Howard Hughes, I find myself more and more using the hand sanitizer dispensers so many conference venues now provide, in between hand washing. There are few things more miserable than being sick on the road when you have a job to do, and a little prevention can go a long way.

Be well!



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