There is no denying that germs are everywhere but some places are just dirtier than others. Airplanes and airports bring together people from all over the world so they are likely candidates for dirtiest places on Earth. sent a microbiologist to gather samples from four flights across five airports to see if there is any truth to that.

Based on what the microbiologist found, airplanes and airports are indeed dirtier than the average home. Surprisingly, the dirtiest spot in these locations is not the bathroom, but instead the tray tables where food is placed. Given the proximity of the dirtiest surface to food, it makes it very possible for bacteria to be directly transmitted into the mouth. Those flying on airplanes must be warned then of preventing direct contact between their food and the tray table, as well as bringing a sanitizer to clean other dirty surfaces they will encounter during their trip.

Assessed in colony-forming units per square inch, the following were rated as the dirtiest places on airplanes and in airports:

  • Tray Table - 2,155 CFU/sq. in.
  • Buttons on a drinking fountain - 1,240 CFU/sq. in.
  • Overhead air vent - 285 CFU/sq. in.
  • Button for flushing the toilet - 265 CFU/sq. in.
  • Buckles for seatbelts - 230 CFU/sq. in.
  • Locks for bathroom stalls - 70 CFU/sq. in.

One of the reasons that could be behind tray tables taking first place as the dirtiest spot in airplanes and airports could be that cabin crews are so busy throughout the day that they can only wipe down tray tables at the end. Boarding times have increased, after all, and with all the other things that cabin crews have to attend to, cleaning tray table is not a priority.

Bathrooms were actually some of the cleaner surfaces tested, which goes against popular notion, and this may be due to them getting more regular cleaning schedules. With surfaces more frequently sanitized, this means that bacteria is given less opportunities to thrive.

"While not discrediting the importance of cleaning all major surfaces between flights, bathrooms have the most potential for fecal coliforms to spread," reiterated

Since cleaning between flights is important, it was suggested that a more efficient procedure for deplaning and boarding should be developed. One of means that could speed up the process involves encouraging more luggage to be checked in, reducing carry-ons that eat up deplaning and boarding times, which cut into cleaning schedules.

Photo: Matthew Hurst | Flickr

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