The Most Germ-Ridden Parts of Airplanes and Airports

Photo (cc) by Simone Ramella

The most germ-ridden place on an airplane is not in the bathroom. It’s right in front of you — the tray table.

A study by Travelmath found that the tray table contains eight times more bacteria than the lavatory flush button, for example.

To determine that fact, Travelmath sent microbiologists to take samples from five different airports and four different flights between two major carriers.

When they tested the swabs for coliform bacteria like E. coli, they found the greatest amounts of bacteria on the following surfaces on airplanes and in airports:

  • Tray table (airplane)
  • Drinking fountain buttons (airport)
  • Overhead air vent (airplane)
  • Lavatory flush button (airplane)
  • Seat belt buckle (airplane)
  • Bathroom stall locks (airport)

While Travelmath did not specify which bacteria were found, the website states that the microbiologists found no E. coli, which can lead to serious illness.

But microbial risk assessment expert Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University, tells CBS News that the amount of bacteria present is one of multiple risk factors.

Another risk factor is the length of exposure to bacteria. Thus, the longer a flight, the greater a passenger’s risk.

Fortunately, contracting a serious illness from bacteria such as E. coli or other germs takes prolonged exposure, Haas says. One of the simplest prevention methods is also among the most effective, he adds:

“In the end, one of the best things that people can always do is practice good hand washing, use of clean utensils and so forth. Soap and water does as well as anything, and if soap and water is not available, then the hand washing products could be as good, typically the alcohol-based ones.”

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