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How to Stay Healthy While Flying for the Holidays

Woman Waiting in the Airport
YakobchukOlena / Getty

Flying to see family or get away for the holidays? You may want to bring along some disinfectant wipes.

A study sponsored by the website travelmath.com found that airplanes are dirtier than your home, but you probably expected that given that they’re public spaces. What might surprise you are the places on airplanes that the study found to be the dirtiest—and you’re not going to be thrilled with the findings.

You may be assuming that the most bacteria are present somewhere in the plane’s bathroom. You’d assume wrong, and may be a little surprised to hear that the tray table—yup, the one on which you eat, drink, and probably rest your hands while you play with your phone—was the dirtiest place on the plane, with an average of 2,155 colony-forming units per square inch. (Consider that in other research the rims of public toilets were found to have a comparable 2,256 CFU/sq.in.)

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Overhead vents were found to have just 285 CFU/sq.in., and the flush buttons at toilets a mere 265 CFU/sq.in. Inside of the airports, the most germ-infested spots were the buttons on drinking fountains. Here’s a ranking of all the spots:

  1. Tray table – 2,155 CFU/sq.in.
  2. Drinking fountain buttons – 1,240 CFU/sq.in.
  3. Overhead air vent – 285 CFU/sq.in.
  4. Lavatory flush button – 265 CFU/sq.in.
  5. Seatbelt buckle – 230 CFU/sq.in.
  6. Bathroom stall locks – 70 CFU/sq.in.

That’s right: While you’ve been using a paper towel to protect your hand from bathroom doors and toilet flushes, the most bacteria have actually been right underneath your food tray.

Of course, we all know that public spaces are generally dirtier than our own homes, but the study speaks to the spots on planes where you should be extra careful. This holiday season, make sure you travel prepared with hand wipes, hand sanitizer, and maybe even some antibacterial wipes for that filthy food tray. You may look a little paranoid to the person sitting next to you, but you probably won’t be getting sick from plane germs, and it’s probably worth it.

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