The dirty truth behind airlines

Getting on an airplane is stressful enough with long security lines, the person in front of you reclining their seat back too far, trying to find space in the overhead compartments and more — the last thing you need on top of that is to get sick. Which may be the very thing that happens if you’re not careful enough!

In a new report from the TODAY show, airports and airplanes were found to be pretty gross. What are things you should look out for — and how can you help prevent you and your family from getting sick? Read on to find out.

Which is dirtier: the kiosk or the security line?

If you guessed security line, you’re the winner on this one! The kiosk, which many people use to pick up their boarding passes, came back clean.

The bins used for collecting shoes, bags and other personal items came back far less clean. Not only did tests showcase dangerous bacteria, one bin even had enough fecal material on it to make people sick.

What lurks inside the airplane?

Spoiler alert: Nothing good. Not only did reporters find crumbs on the seats and floors, but also unidentified stains on passenger seats.

The grossest area? Perhaps not surprisingly, the tray tables. Seat belts also showed dirty results; one even had “human bacteroides” on it. Dr. Robert Glatter of New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital described it as “very serious.”

“These are bacteria that live in our gut and intestines. These are dangerous bacteria that cause serious infections,” he said. Additionally, they can easily be transferrable with a single touch.

Of 13 samples that the TODAY team took, 9 came back with positive results for harmful germs.

Well, at least the drinking water is safe, right?

Well…no. Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wall Street Journal say that the drinking water can be full of bacteria that can sicken you. Same goes for coffee and tea. Best way to save yourself from misery? Buy a bottle.

What’s the takeaway message?

Washing your hands using warm, soapy water will remove anything that you may have come into contact with. When in a tight situation, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will also do the trick.

And wiping down the trays, seat handles and seat belts never hurt anyone either.

Safe travels!

UPDATE 7/17/14: NPR recently did a study on how to best protect yourself from pathogens on airplanes. Some highlights of the study include:

  • Most diseases are contracted via touch: touching something that is contaminated, then putting your hand to your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Microbiologists at Auburn University suggest keeping a supply of hand sanitizer, containing 60% alcohol, on hand
  • Consider using bottled water to brush your teeth instead of the airplane’s water
  • Remember that although the plane recycles about 50% of the air in the cabin, the plane has advanced filtration systems that can catch and remove potentially dangerous dust and microbes from the air
  • Adjust your air-vent to create a “shield” around your face, warding those microbes that do come near you away

To learn more about the study, and more specifics on the list above, click here.

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