Welcome to the fall, back-to-school, boxes-of-Kleenex, sneeze-all-the-time season. Just in time for flu season to start, we offer this list of the germiest places on an airplane and in the airport. Just so you’ll know what you’re getting into every time you step foot on a plane.
As anyone who has ever flown knows, all it takes is one fellow passenger coughing and sneezing his or her way to the destination to make you feel like you’re trapped in an iron germ factory. (As I write this, I am on a plane headed to Los Angeles. The woman in the row behind is sneezing. Ugh. Of course, I have also been the person doing the sneezing and coughing. Can we talk about those unreasonable fees for changing a low-cost plane ticket, even if it means flying with the flu?)
These days, I start dosing myself with vitamin C at least a week before I fly. I continue swallowing the giant pills throughout the trip and for a couple of days after I get home. It seems to help. Avoiding the germiest spots in airports and on airplanes can help too.
Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, a commercial cleaning company, has analyzed the germiest spots on planes. Get ready to say, “Eww.”
1) Reading materials
Because not everyone is as conscientious about washing their hands as you are, try not to touch anything someone else is likely to have touched. That starts with the onboard magazines and catalogs that have been handled by hundreds of others, at least a few of whom wiped their runny nose with that same hand they’re using to hold the magazine. If that doesn’t give you a mental image of “eww,” think about how many people lick their finger to help turn the page.
Solution: Bring your own reading materials. And keep your hands away from the seatback pockets at all costs.
2) Plane potties
Everyone know public potties are germ farms. Planes potties are no different. They might even be worse. With demands for fast turnarounds, plane lavatories get a once over—if we’re lucky. No surprise, then, that studies show almost every surface of the plane potty is teeming with E. coli. To make matters worse, the industrial-strength flush can send mists of liquid flying into the air and that tiny little sink makes it nearly impossible to thoroughly wash your hands. Even if you do wash your hands, when you leave to return to your seat, you’ll be touching the same door handle that was touched by everyone who didn’t.
Solution: The easiest solution is to steer clear of the plane potty. When that isn’t an option (remember how it was when you were pregnant? Or potty training your toddler?) use a paper towel to turn faucets off and on, to close the lid before flushing, and to open the door. Carry sanitizing wipes and use them once you’re back at your seat.
3) Airline pillows and blankets
The reality is that it’s tough to find either on a flight these days unless you manage to upgrade to the first class cabin. If there is one, chances are someone fell asleep and drooled on it. Eww again.
Solution: Bring your own. I never travel without a pashmina. It works as a colorful shawl to dress up an outfit when you’re on the ground and as a blanket during a chilly flight. If you simply must take a nap, spring for one of those neck pillows they sell all over the airport. There are inflatable ones that will tuck into a pocket. If you prefer a cushier one, add a hook and clip it to your backpack or carry on. And always dress to travel in your heaviest layers–it will keep you warmer on the flight and free up valuable space in your suitcase.
4) TSA security screening areas
Everyone ages 13-75 is expected to practically strip to get through security–including taking off their shoes. I am stunned by the number of people who then walk barefoot through security. At O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports. Triple ewww.