Dirtiest surface on a plane: tray table

WASHINGTON — When you take to the air, you may be packed in like sardines with other passengers. But it turns out you have a lot of other company while you’re on an airplane.

A survey by Travelmath.com shows that airplanes and airports have more bacteria than the average home. And of all the surfaces you’ll encounter during a flight, the dirtiest place of all is, believe it or not, the tray table on which your food sits.

The study found that the tray table was nearly 10 times as likely to host bacteria than surfaces such as seat belt buckles. The flush button in the lavatory, and the door handle to get in it, were even cleaner than that.

The second-dirtiest surface you’ll encounter is the button on the drinking fountain in the airport, followed by the plane’s air vents.

Why? Travelmath says it’s because the more obvious surfaces, such as the lavatories, get cleaned more frequently, and that in the quick turnaround process of getting a plane ready for a new flight, the trays get overlooked.

It could be worse — the lavatories are where the really dangerous stuff, such as E. coli bacteria, form, so the fact that those surfaces get cleaned pretty well is good news. None of the samples from airports or airplanes had any E. coli.

Still, bring hand sanitizer, and if you drop food on the tray, don’t eat it.

Travelmath also proposes that if more people checked bags, passengers could get off planes quicker, thus giving crews more time to clean.

As for home, basically anything besides pets’ food bowls and toys are similar to airplane surfaces.

The study was conducted by a microbiologist who took 26 samples from five airports and four flights.

A study of how dirty airplanes are put the bacteria in perspective with other household items. (Courtesy Travelmath)
A study of how dirty airplanes are put the bacteria in perspective with other household items. (Courtesy Travelmath)

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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