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How clean are planes and airports?

Traveling involves risk, so travelers are potential customers of insurance companies. Flying is the safest mode of travel in terms of accidents, but how about germs travelers may be exposed to?

Insurancequotes.com conducted 18 tests across 6 surfaces from 3 major US airports and airline flights to find out how clean traveling really is. Each surface was swabbed 3 times at airports or on different US flights.

They sent their swabs to a laboratory to find the average number of viable bacteria and fungal cells per square inch, or colony-forming units (CFU). Travelers are supposed to do the airlines' work by checking in online or by using self check-in kiosks at the airport.

SelectionThere is little reason to assume the kiosks are regularly cleaned. In fact, self check-in kiosks have the largest collection of bacteria most likely to make you sick according to insurancequotes.com.

The average self check-in screen contains 253,857 CFU. This is over 13 times more than the average CFU of an airport water fountain button. In comparison, on toilet seats an average of only 172 CFU are found. Checking in online seems a better option than using a check-in kiosk.

Seats at the gates seem not to be cleaned very often either. The lab found 21,630 CFU on airline gate bench armrests. This is 630 more than in the average kitchen sink, which is the most the contaminated place in homes.

Airfields see a lot more traffic than airplanes. Therefore, it makes sense the average CFU found in planes is a lot less than at airports. However, they are still pretty high compared to most common household surfaces. Lavatory flush buttons are the dirtiest, with an average of 95,145 CFU, while a kitchen countertop has an average 361 CFU.

The US Federal Aviation administration (FAA) does not regulate or inspect aircraft cleaning. Each airline can decide how often and how well an airplane is cleaned. If the turnaround time between flights is low, the plane may not be cleaned at all. But even when a plane is cleaned, general cleaners are used rather than stronger disinfectants, leaving dangerous germs in the plane.

The most dangerous germs are gram-negative rods causing infections that are most common in health care settings: pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis. They are most commonly found on seat belt buckles and make up 46% of total CFU.

Besides wearing a face mask there is little travelers can do to avoid the risks of bacteria while traveling. Basically, the only other thing you can do is carry sanitizer with you to clean surfaces like armrests, kiosk screens, seat belts and tray tables.

Tags: bacteria, aircraft cleaning, infections, sanitizer

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