The Germy Place On A Plane You Probably Haven't Even Considered

NOWHERE IS SAFE, or so it seems.

Despite reports that flying is still one of the safest modes of travel, it can feel like nowhere on the actual plane is safe ― from bacteria, that is.

By now you’ve likely seen the slew of horror stories about how tray tables and lavatories are often covered in germs. But tests commissioned by Travel Math revealed there’s one fixture laden with bacteria that you might not have even thought of: the overhead air vent, which you have to touch to adjust.

This knob is rated BHS (better have sanitizer).
Juanmonino via Getty Images
This knob is rated BHS (better have sanitizer).

Travel Math sent a microbiologist to test five airports and four airplanes for bacteria, finding that the air vent contained 285 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. That may seem pristine compared to the tray table which, at an eye-opening 2,155 CFUs per square inch, took the top spot for dirtiest tested place on the planes.

But consider this fact: The air vent showed a higher number of bacteria than the toilet flush button, which had 265 CFUs.

We would recommend throwing a blanket over yourself in order to avoid having to adjust the air knob, but it sounds like those may be gnarly, too.

Several fight attendants confirmed to HuffPost back in 2015 that while the blankets are replaced each morning, they’re re-folded and re-used over the course of a day’s remaining flights. In 2000, a trade union found traces of bacteria linked to illnesses like lung and eye infections on airline pillows and blankets. Since then, some airlines got rid of them altogether, while others charge for new ones, CNN reported.

Still, you shouldn’t let these seemingly endless developments in grossness turn you off from flying. You’re no more at risk of getting sick or contracting harmful bacteria on a plane than you would be in, say, a daycare or office building, and the reasons you might be getting sick after traveling have more to do with the act of traveling itself.

That said, washing your hands is always a good idea, of course.

This article has been updated to remove a reference to the relative surface areas of the air conditioning vent and tray table, as that has no relevance to test results measured per square inch.
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