Airplanes are Full of Harmful Germs (You Already Knew That)

EVOLVE: The New Southwest Interior.
Airplane seats look clean, but looks are deceiving.

I knew I’m not being a germaphobe when I carry my antibacterial wipes and liquid hand sanitizer with me when I travel.  Most of my friends, family, and those near me on the plane, regard me with slight amusement as I wipe down almost everything within reach – the tray table (both bottom and top), my seatbelt, and the armrests, including the buttons that control sound and call flight attendant button.  A few wise souls occasionally ask for a wipe or two.  My fears were not unfounded.  This week, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers from Auburn University proved that dangerous bacteria can live for up to one week on the areas surrounding your airplane seat.  In this case, being right didn’t make me feel better.

Microbiologists obtained samples of six different materials that passengers touch while on planes – plastic tray tables, the cloth used for seat pockets, an armrest, a window shade, the leather used for upgraded seats, and the metal toilet flush.  Both  E. coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus  (MRSA) were applied to these surfaces under typical conditions present on an airplane.  The results are not pleasant.  MRSA bacteria last for up to a week (only 4 days for the toilet flusher) and E. coli lasts for 2-4 days, depending on the surface where it is found.  You know how quickly the cabin on a plane is cleaned between flights.  Do you think the crew gets those germs?

Just what is E. coli, and what can it do to you? It is bacteria that lives in the intestines of healthy people.  Most strains are relatively harmless will cause only minor diarrhea.  But some stains can make you really sick, and cause kidney damage.  MRSA is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics used to treat staph infections.  Some forms are caused by skin-to-skin contact

You can lessen your chances of getting one of these nasty bugs by being a bit vigilant.  First, carry antibacterial wipes and/or liquid.  They’re inexpensive, and available at most drug stores.  When you get to your seat, wipe down the seat belt, the tray table, the window shade and the armrests.  Speaking of airline seats, don’t wear shorts or short skirts.  While the Auburn study didn’t include all airline seats, Good Morning America tested seats in public places.  The results were, well, gross.  E. coli and fecal matter were found everywhere.  Do you want the backs of your legs exposed to that?

Don’t even touch the seat pocket.  I’ve seen people put used dental floss, used Kleenex and other unsavory items in them.  They don’t get cleaned out often, if at all.  A veteran flight attendant says that used diaper bags and vomit bags get left in them after flights.  Do you really need to read the inflight magazine or buy something from the inflight store?  Bring your own reading material and shop when you land.

When you use the restroom, put your shoes on.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen trot down the aisle in their socks.  You’ve seen the lavatory floors.  Enough said.  For those of you who go shoeless, thanks for mopping the floor for me. After using the toilet, wash your hands with soap.  I’m one of those people who won’t touch a pubic restroom door handle if I don’t have to – I’ve seen too many people exit without washing their hands.  If you have difficulties, just use antibacterial liquid when you get back to your seat.

These recommendations are common sense.  If everyone practiced good hygiene, you wouldn’t have to worry so much.  Follow these precautions.  It’s not worth getting sick when you don’t have to.