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10 Things Airplanes Aren’t Cleaning as They Should

Sitting amongst strangers in a confined space for any amount of time just feels like a breeding ground for illness. But how well are these aircrafts being cleaned? The answer may make you pack your own sanitizing wipes ahead of your next flight.

Passengers prepare fasten seat belt before the flight.MR.SOMKIAT BOONSING/Shutterstock

Seatbelt buckles

Unless you ask the person sitting next to you to buckle your seatbelt (which we don’t recommend) you’re going to touch that piece of metal at least twice during a flight, once before takeoff, and once when you land. Unfortunately, these oft-used items aren’t getting the spick and span treatment you’d like. According to Travelmath, the average airplane seatbelt buckle tested for 230 colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch. Find out the 13 things hotels aren’t cleaning as well as they should either.

Safety instructions in the pocket of an airplane chairVPales/Shutterstock

Seatback pockets

That slim seatback pocket looks innocent enough at first glance. After all, it holds your passenger safety information and the Skymall catalog. But the cloth that covers it isn’t getting much attention from cabin cleaners. According to a study conducted at Auburn University, the pocket is pretty darn disgusting. Seeing as passengers often stuff trash in that pocket (think used tissues and dirty diapers), it sees its fair share of bacteria. In fact, their study showed that the germs found in this location survived the longest out of any surface on an airplane at around seven days. This is just one of the many things airlines aren’t likely to tell you before you board a flight.

Airplane Tray Table on seat back for mockup banner or design advertising on blank area, already closed, copy spaceGuzsudio/Shutterstock

Tray tables

Cabin cleaners only do a speedy wipe down of airplanes in between flights because they simply aren’t given enough time to do more during these quick turnovers. Believe it or not, tray tables aren’t typically among the surfaces that get cleaned between domestic flights, according to the Wall Street Journal. They typically are only addressed during overnight cleanings. Airlines aren’t the only offenders; these are the 10 things restaurants aren’t cleaning enough.

Aircraft cabin and passenger with hatRed On/Shutterstock

Headrest

A different study of airline hygiene conducted by Marketplace and analyzed in a laboratory at the University of Guelph cited a different surface as being the most bacteria-laden—the headrest. According to their study, the “highest total aerobic count, hemolytic bacteria, and E.coli” were found here. The headrest is nearly impossible to avoid unless you bring something to slip over it, which makes sense that it would come into contact with the most germs. If you want your next flight to be a healthy one, check out these tips from smart travelers.

Pillow and blanket lying on the seat in the planeAndrew Makedonski/Shutterstock

Blankets

Complimentary blankets are pretty much a thing of the past among airlines these days, particularly in economy class, and that might just be a good thing. Back in 2008, the Wall Street Journal revealed that these once common airplane items were only washed every five to 30 days. When flying, BYOB (Bring Your Own Blanket).

View down the aisle of an airplane before the first flight of the day taken from a low angle. The captain does his preflight safety checks at the very front of the planeMyra Thompson/Shutterstock

The floor

A quick vacuum job in between flights does not a clean carpet make, especially when you have hundreds of pairs of shoes traipsing up and down the aisles of an airplane day-in and day-out. According to an article in USA Today, cleanliness isn’t regulated by the FAA. It’s standard that a plane goes through a deep clean about once a month and perhaps then that carpeting will get extra attention. Even so, it’s best to steer clear of placing your belongings on the floor if you can help it. Once you’ve reached your destination, here’s how to have a healthy and clean hotel stay.

airplane toiletstratong/Shutterstock

Bathroom surfaces

Yes, cabin cleaners do a wipe down of lavatories after an aircraft’s passengers have deplaned, but think about how many folks use the facilities during the flight and how many hours go by before that cleaning happens. In an interview with TIME, University of Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba said, “It’s hard to beat the restroom because the water shuts off so people can’t complete hand washing. The sinks are so small that people with large hands can’t even fit them fully underneath the faucets.” A bathroom is a dangerous place–these are things you should never do in an airplane restroom. 

Asian man read flight safety instructions on card board flight. Blank safety instructions on board for passenger and traveler safety.ShutterStockStudio/Shutterstock

Menus/safety information pamphlets

We’ve already addressed the icky stuff that often contaminates seatback pockets, but consider the material that’s actually supposed to be in this area. With barely ten to 15 minutes to tidy a cabin, according to the New York Times, cleaners don’t have time to wipe down every menu and safety pamphlet in those pockets. When you consider how often they are touched by human hands (and the garbage that gets tossed into the pockets), this literature is a breeding ground for gross. If you want to brush up on your travel etiquette, never do these things on an airplane.

Overhead console in the modern passenger aircraft. air conditioner button and lighting switchEvgenyrychko/Shutterstock

Overhead air vent

Adjusting that overhead air vent is something most passengers do to personalize their limited space for comfort, but who is cleaning that surface? Likely no one. It’s one of the dirtiest spots on an airplane according to Travelmath. What’s even more troubling is that airlines like British Airways have actually experimented with skipping the between-flight cleanings entirely. Fortunately, according to The Points Guy, that trial is over.

Inside the cabin of airplane with passengersMeeh/Shutterstock

Aisle seats

All airline seats need regular cleanings, but aisle seats could really use some extra attention that they simply aren’t getting. Why? As passengers walk to and from the bathroom they typically put their hands on the tops of the aisle seats to steady themselves. The bacteria and germs from those hands, particularly after using the lavatory, is left behind. In a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, a team of researchers found that passengers sitting in aisle seats were more likely to catch the stomach flu (or norovirus) than those sitting in middle or window seats. Know before you go: This is the airline with the worst reputation in America.