The Dirtiest Place on an Airplane has dug up the dirt on the dirtiest place on an airplane, uncovering some surprises. While the common supposition is that the most germs lurk in the toilet, a microbiologist found that the dirtiest place on an airplane is actually the tray table.

Travelmath had a microbiologist take samples from four airplanes and five airports, and calculate the number of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) per square inch on various surfaces. The company, which analyzes travel data, then ranked them in terms of bacteria count.

On the planes, the ubiquitous tray table was the filthiest, beating out all other regions, including the toilet, by a landslide. The microbiologist found that the average tray table contained 2,155 germ colonies per square inch; almost 10 times more than the flush button on the plane’s toilet, which measured 265 CFU/sq. inch. This is particularly disturbing because passengers routinely lower their tray tables to eat or rest their heads.

Measuring other interior areas of the airplane, research found the overhead air vent had 285 CFU/sq. inch, while the seatbelt buckle weighed in at 230 CPU/sq. inch. These numbers are generally acceptable. As points out, the average kitchen counter contains 361 CFU/sq. inch, the average home toilet seat has 172 CFUs, while the average cell phone measures 27 CFU/sq. inch.

The good news is that all 26 of the surfaces swabbed in the travelmath study tested negative for E. coli, a harmful bacteria present in fecal matter.

Dirtiest Place in the Airport

Lagging not far behind germ-ridden tray tables in travelmath’s study were airport water fountain buttons, which the microbiologist found contained a whopping 1,240 germ colonies per square inch. This is nearly 18 times more germs than could be found on airport bathroom stall locks, which were surprisingly clean with just 70 CFU/square inch.

Of course, some airports are cleaner than others. The most sanitary airports, according to the 2015 World Airport Awards, can be found in South Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, Zurich, Copenhagen and Helsinki. Incheon International Airport (ICN) in South Korea was named the cleanest airport in the world in 2015.

A Call for More Clean-Up

The trend today is for airlines to turn around flights as quickly as possible, however Travelmath suggests that cleaning crews require more time to sanitize the aircrafts in between flights. With minimal federal OSHA and FAA regulations in place as far as cleanliness is concerned, carriers set their own standards. While most flights have regular cleaning schedules for bathrooms, which may explain why they are relatively germ free, the tray tables are often sanitized just once, at the end of each day. Until this problem is addressed, Travelmath suggests that passengers may want to travel with small bottles of hand sanitizer to avoid dirtiest places on an airplane.


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