You Should Never Use This Part of an Airplane Seat—Here’s Why

Updated: May 23, 2023

You might be thinking it's the tray table, but think again.

There are lots of things to be grossed out about on airline flights. From tiny airplane bathrooms with toilets that a couple of hundred people use for many hours without cleaning on a long-haul flight, to tray tables where people may or may not have spilled food or changed diapers, there are plenty of places for germs to hang out. But the grossest part of your airplane seat, according to flight attendants, is actually someplace you might not suspect: the seat pocket in front of you.

Why is the seat pocket the dirtiest part of your airplane seat?

Safety Information Packet In Airplane Seat BackTamilisa Miner/Getty Images

In a Reddit forum, someone asked flight attendants, “What are some disturbing secrets that passengers should know?” A veteran flight attendant, HausofDarling, recommended that “you never, ever, ever, EVER use or put anything in the seat pocket.”

The reason, they said, is that the seat pocket is “cleared of rubbish but are never ‘cleaned.’ I have pulled out and seen all sorts [of things] pulled out from there. Dirty tissues, sick bags, knickers, socks, people’s feet, gum, half-sucked sweets, apple cores.” So, think twice before stashing your phone or laptop in there on your next flight.

What other parts of your airplane are dirty and gross?

Woman Resting Feet On Seat Armrest Of Commercial AirplaneJason Hosking/Getty Images

Airplane cabins are basically like germ farms. In just eight hours, just one cell of E. coli can become a colony of more than 12 million cells. Your tray table alone likely has more germs than a toilet seat or a cell phone. For example, one study revealed that tray tables contained more than 2,000 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. To put that in perspective, swabs of cell phones have shown around 27 to 30 colony-forming units per square inch.

This is why experts say you should never take your shoes off on an airplane. A flight attendant recently told Mirror passengers to also avoid wearing shorts during flights, which he said was “a one-way ticket to bacteria-ville.” The flight attendant further warned against falling asleep or leaning your head on the window, since you have no idea how many people or children have wiped their hands or other things all over the window.

How to clean your airplane seat

There is a right way to germ-proof your plane seat, however. Always bring antibacterial wipes that contain alcohol and are FDA-approved to actually kill bacteria. Wipe the tray table, the seatbelt handle, the armrest and recliner button, the area around the window, and even the air vents, according to Debra A. Goff, Pharm.D., an infectious disease specialist at Ohio State University.