I am sure you have experienced it if you travel by jet airplane very often. You have saved and looked forward to your vacation for quite a while. You feel great when you get on, excited to arrive at your destination. Besides a bit of turbulence, your trip was quite enjoyable. But when you arrive, you start to feel a dry itchy throat, and in the next couple of days you come down with the flu or a cold.
Where could you have picked up these nasty germs. On an airplane, there are several places that you need to be aware of and avoid if possible.
The Airplane Lavatory
This probably is a given. Usually after the movie, or after a mid-flight nap, you have to use the same tiny commode as many others on your flight as well as all the other flights before. Those that clean the airplanes have only a short time to wipe off all the germy places and may have missed a few or many inches. Beware of the door handle. If possible use a tissue or paper towel to open the door. Be sure to use all the paper products available like the toilet seat cover. The toilet flushes with thunderous suction and it can spray water and germs into the air. The CDC has cited the lavatory in an airplane as a major danger area for the spread of germs and disease during the H1N1 flu epidemic. Use the paper towels to close the toilet lids before flushing. It is best to not wash your hands, but as soon as you can return to your seat and use hand sanitizer. According to AARP there is a literal smorgasbord of E. coli and fecal bacteria in an airplane lavatory.
Pillows and Blankets
Unless visibly soiled, the pillows and blankets are often reissued without washing, so you may be cuddling up with some amenities that were drooled on just a flight ago. The Wall Street Journal investigated this issue in 2007 and discovered that airlines clean their blankets every five to 30 days. Just because it is wrapped in plastic does not necessarily mean it is new or clean. In 2000 the Royal Airline Laundry which supplies pillows and blankets to American, United and US Airways was caught repackaging pillows and blankets without cleaning them. Research further showed that there were traces of pseudomonas paucimobilis that can lead to eye infections and Aspergillus niger which can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding and pneumonia. Many of the airlines like Southwest and Alaska Airlines have removed blankets and pillows completely while some other airlines now charge for them. If you are worried about staying warm, wear layers of clothing or buy an inflatable pillow and compact blanket which you can stash in your carry on.
Did you know that airplane water has been under review by the EPA for traces of E. coli for several years? AARP reports that there was a random sampling of water on several unnamed domestic and international aircraft which tested positive for E. coli. One particular strain of this bacteria is the leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S. If the bottled water runs out on an aircraft, the crew will serve airplane water. Good news - in October 2011, the EPA will standardize stringent disinfection and inspection regulations which should improve and hopefully eradicate this bleak situation. It is suggested that you purchase a bottle of water after you have cleared the security checkpoint. When ordering fluids on the plane, stick to prepackaged liquids and do not use ice from the airplane water supply.
According to flight attendants, the tray table is used for everything from parents changing dirty diapers to kids wiping their boogers on them. It can become a filthy petri dish for many health hazards. A superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Auerus showed up after a University of Arizona researcher tested tray tables from three major airlines in 2007.
Never, ever, eat directly off the surface of a tray table. It is recommended that you take disinfectant wipes with you to clean off your tray table before and after use. Lysol disinfecting wipes is a reliable choice.
Be sure to cover an open cuts with Band-Aids, since the MRSA bug infects through open skin wounds.
Have I scared you enough that you will be more careful on your next flight? Here is one that you may not have thought of.
Your Seat Pocket
Usually when you sit down in your seat, you put your personal items into the seat pocket in front of you so they will be readily available. Think again! You will want to reconsider your routine if you know that cold and flu viruses can survive for hours on fabric and tissues, and even longer on plastic and metal. Toenail clippings, half-eaten hamburgers and dirty diapers are just a few items that get shoved into the seat pockets. Just reading the in-flight magazine can be hazardous if the person before you had the flu. It is suggested that you bring your own magazines and items within a plastic bag for protection. Nasty surprises have been left in the seat pocket and are not always picked up during the quick turn around cleaning that is done before your flight.