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The Germaphobe’s Guide to Airplane Travel

by Kristen Wong of lifehacker.com

Life gets pretty exhausting if you’re always afraid of getting dirty. I try to remember this mantra when I fly because airplanes are so freaking filthy. Research from the University of Victoria suggests we’re 100 times more likely to catch a cold from air travel than “normal daily ground level experience.” Here’s how to stay relatively sanitary (and sane) on planes.

Wipe Down Everything

TravelMath.com sent a microbiologist to collect bacteria samples from airplanes to see which spots were the filthiest. Based on the samples, they estimated the number of bacteria per square inch of various spots, including seat belts, air vents, and toilet handles.

Tray tables were by far the most bacteria-ridden spots on a plane, with over 2,000 colony-forming units (CFUs) of bacteria per square inch (by comparison, your cell phone has about 27 CFUs per square inch). If that’s not enough to convince you, one flight attendant told the Huffington Post that tray tables are usually only cleaned once a day, when the aircraft “RONs” (remains overnight). HuffPost contributor and active flight attendant Sara Keagle chimed in:

I saw more dirty diapers laid out on those trays than food. And those trays, yeah, never saw them cleaned or sanitized once.

Oh, good. So if you’re going to use your tray table to eat, work, or nap, you might want to, you know, wipe it down. Bring some travel-sized antibacterial wipes in your carry-on and wipe down the seat pockets, entertainment screens, and in-flight magazines while you’re at it. Drexel Medicine estimates these are some of the germiest spots on planes. Also, a study from Auburn University found that bacteria like staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli can survive for days on different airplane surfaces, including armrests and window shades.

Book an Early Morning Flight

If you want your airplane to be as clean as possible, you might want to consider booking an early morning flight.

Travel + Leisure asked different airlines about their cleaning policies. Most confirmed that they schedule “a more thorough scrub,” which includes wiping down seats and tray tables with disinfectant when the plane remains at an airport overnight.

That means first-thing-in-the-morning flights will likely be a lot cleaner than flights later in the day or at night, says T+L. Similarly, Keagle says blankets and pillows are only freshly washed on the first flights of the day.

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