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What Are the DIRTIEST Things on Planes? At Airports?

What Are the DIRTIEST Things on Planes? At Airports?
Jackie Reddy

Analysis shows that bacteria levels vary widely both in planes and at the airport

There’s no point in denying it: public transport is a germy place. While cars, buses and trains aren’t dirt-free, the confines of the cabin render air travel unappealing for those worried about hygiene. Though germaphobes will have many believe that planes are nothing but flying Petri dishes, the results of an experiment has provided some interesting insights into the both the cleanest and dirtiest spots on an aircraft. recently sent a microbiologist to gather 26 samples from four flights and five airports. Swabs were taken from tray tables, toilet flush buttons, seat belt buckles and bathroom stall locks.

The results of these tests have been given in “colony-forming units” (CFUs), which measure the number of bacteria that are able to multiply per square inch. Once analyzed, the results showed that while airports and planes are dirtier that the average home, the concentration of germs in these two places isn’t necessarily what travelers would expect.

For example, the results showed that airport and plane bathrooms are relatively clean. Given the fact that these are usually sanitized on a regular basis, this makes sense. On planes however, tray tables had an average CFU count of 2,155, making these the dirtiest places on an aircraft. Lavatory flush buttons, seat buckles and overhead vents averaged in at 265, 230 and 285, respectively.

On the ground, it appears that, with an average of 1,240 CFUs, drinking fountain buttons were by far the dirtiest places – especially in comparison to bathroom stall locks, which carry a mean CFU count of 70. For those interested, the full results and methodology are available here.

While samples from this experiment all tested negative for fecal coliforms like E. coli, it’s worth considering how these results compare with everyday household objects. According to the National Science Foundation, pet bowls and toys and even kitchen countertops are often dirtier than some of the fixtures found within airplanes and airports.

While these results may come as mixed news for germaphobes, for airlines and airports, they clearly indicate that, when it comes to clean, there’s always room for improvement.

[Photo: iStock]

View Comments (2)


  1. BJM

    September 9, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    A little dirt is good for you.

  2. AAJetMan

    September 9, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Nasty tray tables. geez.

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