Occupants of city apartments and other communal spaces know to be on alert for bedbugs, parasitic insects so nicknamed because they mostly hide in mattresses. The tiny pests are an extreme nuisance because they are so difficult to exterminate. Now one American Airlines passenger raises the question – can bedbugs infest planes?
Decreased legroom, extra charges for every add-on, and crowded planes – as if air travel wasn’t uncomfortable enough these days, do passengers now also have to worry that they will also be bitten by bedbugs mid-flight?
That’s the concern Tom Kelleher raised recently after flying with American Airlines from Boston to Paris for a birthday trip.
Kelleher recounted his ordeal to the Boston Globe: “During the flight I did see a very small insect on my shoulder, it looked like a tiny roach.” He flicked the insect off of his shoulder, but deplaned to discover bites covering his torso. When those bites started itching and swelling, he went to a Parisian pharmacy, where he was informed by the pharmacist that his bites looked consistent with bedbug bites.
Kelleher would not be the first passenger to suffer from bedbugs on a flight. Air India and British Airways have both had recent plane bedbug infestations that led to traveler complaints and, in the British Airways case, one passenger being bitten over 100 times during a longhaul flight.
Entomologist Jonathan Boyer told the Globe that it is entirely possible for bedbugs to make their way onto flights via passenger luggage, calling them “nature’s best hitchhikers” because they can go for extended amounts of time without feeding and are very difficult to eradicate.
But American Airlines and other entomologists consulted by the Globe both agree that without a picture of the offending creature, it is impossible to state conclusively if Kelleher was bitten by a bedbug or another insect. American’s spokesman, Ross Feinstein, noted that no other passenger on the flight complained of bites and questioned the timing of when Kelleher was bitten. He stated, “We spoke with our medical team. They say that it is a low chance of bedbugs causing this. Spider, flea, or mosquito bites occurring prior to the flight seem more likely.”
As for Kelleher, the airline offered him a $100 voucher toward future flights. He says he was hoping for a full refund on his $1000 tickets as well as recognition for a ruined vacation. “I wanted them to say something along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry for this awful situation,'” he told the Globe.