Summer vacations are in full swing and throngs of people are boarding planes to get to their vacay destination. In addition to their luggage, they are also bringing a scary amount of germs along. Peter J. Sheldon, Sr., vice president of operations and development of Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, shares the germiest places in the airport and how you can reduce your risk of picking up a bug. We will warn you, however, you will never view an airport or airplane the same again.
5 Germiest places in the airport
1. The security line
You know the drill: shoes off, empty your pockets into the bin, put your carryon on the belt. Seems harmless right? Not so, says Sheldon. “As you stroll barefooted through the security checkpoint, have you considered the millions who have gone before you? Athlete’s foot and other fungal infections can easily be left behind, just waiting for their next host,” he explains.
Solution: Sheldon recommends always wearing socks when traveling to avoid going barefoot through the security checkpoint. “In fact, it’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes, so that you’ll be better prepared in the event of an emergency landing or other onboard situation,” he adds. “Plus, you won’t have to worry about blowing out a flip flop as you run to your gate.”
2. The water fountain
Staying hydrated in the airport or on the airplane can be challenging and pricey. “Between the high cost of beverages in the terminal and new FAA rules that disallow liquid containers over a certain size, it may be tempting to drink from the public fountain, or to refill an empty bottle here rather than buy a new one, but don’t do it,” Sheldon warns. “Public drinking fountains can harbor as many as 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot. It’s not worth the risk to save a few bucks.”
Solution: Sheldon suggests bringing water from home in small bottles. “In most cases, as long as they are still sealed, security officials will allow you to pass through with no problem,” he explains. “If you’re unsure, or want to avoid the extra weight in your carry-on, buy one from a vendor in the terminal. Once onboard the plane, ask for bottled water from the beverage cart.” Sheldon goes on to say that you should never drink the “tap” water on the plane or drink coffee or tea that is made from it. “Studies have shown airplane water may contain contaminants such as E. coli and others as a result of questionable techniques for filling the tanks and improper/malfunctioning filter systems,” adds the cleaning expert.
3. The airplane bathroom
Think about it: With anywhere from 50 to 75 users per toilet, it’s no surprise that the airplane washroom is hands-down the germiest place on the trip. “Numerous studies have shown that these are teeming with E. coli on almost every surface. Because they are rarely sanitized between flights, there is also the cumulative effect of hundreds of users before it gets a good scrubbing,” says Sheldon. “The tiny sink makes it nearly impossible to thoroughly wash your hands, and those who manage it are instantly greeted by the germy door handle upon departure.” Ewwww!
Solution: “Avoid using the on-board facilities if at all possible,” advises Sheldon. “If you must, use a paper towel to turn faucets off and on, to close the lid before flushing (always a good idea, even at home) and to open the door. Carry sanitizing wipes in your pocket and use them thoroughly and immediately upon exit. Back at your seat, repeat sanitizing if you’ve touched anything along the way.”
4. The onboard magazines
Magazines aren’t just packed full of advertisements and newsy articles. According to Sheldon, studies show that many people don’t bother to wash their hands at all…as many as 30 percent don’t wash up after using the airport restroom either. He adds, “Add in the usual coughs, sneezes and runny noses that carry thousands of germs to every surface, and those magazines and catalogs in the seat back pocket are a virtual biohazard. And, how many times have you seen someone absentmindedly lick their finger to help turn the page?”
Solution: Bring your own reading material and avoid touching anything in that seatback pocket unless you absolutely must refer to the emergency evacuation instructions in the event of an actual emergency.
5. The airline pillows and blankets
Do you really need that airplane pillow to travel comfortably? You may reconsider when you learn that on a typical flight with 100 passengers, statistics show that about five will be ill with a cold or the flu. “Zonked out on cold medicine, these folks might enjoy a cozy nap with their airline pillow and blankie. But, upon touchdown, rapid clean-ups between flights means that when you board, there’s a good chance you could be using a pillow that’s been drooled or sneezed on within the past hour,” Sheldon warns.
Solution: Sheldon’s advice is to say “No Thanks!” to germy airline pillows and blankets and bring your own. “U-shaped neck pillows can be quite comfortable and keep you from drifting into neighboring passengers’ personal space. Or, if you’re cramped for suitcase space, throw some clothes into a pillow case at home, tie it shut and bring that along to rest your head. You can also wear or carry an extra layer, like a sweater or light jacket, to use as a pillow or to keep warm.