You’ve suspected it for a long time, and it has been confirmed: airplanes are some of the dirtiest places you can imagine. Traveling by plane is not only frustrating, what with delayed and crowded flights, canceled flights, long waits and security screenings, but it is also hazardous to your health.
Airline staff have confidentially admitted that planes are not always cleaned thoroughly between flights, but a study by Auburn University found that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Streptococcus pyogenes and E.coli bacteria survives on common surfaces for more than a week. E.coli can live on the armrest of a plane for four days, eventually infecting passengers with diseases such as kidney failure and severe anemia. The bacteria thrives in porous surfaces, such as cloth material.
Airlines claim to follow rigorous plans to keep their aircraft as clean as possible, using the following multi-stage cleaning processes:
1. Daily Cleaning – During the overnight stay at an airport, planes are cleaned thoroughly, and all used pillows and blankets are removed.
2. Deep Cleaning – Once a month, the aircraft is deep cleaned using EPA- and FAA-approved cleaning agents.
3. Ultra-Cleaning – Depending on its hours of flight time, a plane undergoes heavy maintenance at 18-24 months.
However, they all agree that the continuous crowded space is the cause of the problem. According to James Barbee, associate director of the Detection & Food Safety Center at Auburn University, we all carry microbes inside and outside of our bodies, and some of these microbes are transmitted to other people. In unclean areas, thee bacteria can easily multiply.
While everyone is worried about the dirty secrets of bacteria in aircraft lavatories, people don’t realize what goes on on the common surfaces they touch in the rest of the plane. For sure, the super flusher of the toilet sprays bacteria everywhere, which accounts for much of the E. coli contamination throughout the aircraft.
Aircraft toilets require special attention from cleaning crews, but not all airlines give them the attention they deserve, especially between short flights. At times, a domestic carrier can fly two or three legs without being emptied or cleaned.
Cleaning an Aircraft Lavatory
It takes less than 10 minutes to clean a lavatory using special products, with an additional 10-15 minutes for exterior cleaning. A lavatory truck will empty the waste tank before filling it with clean fluid.
Staying Safe From Germs Lurking In Aircraft Toilets
What can you do to minimize your risk of catching an infection from an aircraft lavatory?
1. Wash your hands after using the toilet.
2. Use tissue paper to push the toilet knobs, as that is a favorite hiding spot for germs, likewise with the bathroom door.
3. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, because the water in aircraft lavatories is of questionable cleanliness.
4. Clean your hands with antibacterial hand sanitizer again when you reach your seat, particularly if you touched headrests to navigate the aisle.
5. Always wipe down your tray before using it, as passengers tend to use it as a changing table for their babies.
6. Always rehydrate with plenty of bottled water during flights.