Travel with Jane Tray Table Airplane

Your Airplane Tray Table Is Trying To Kill You

14 September 2015

OCD travellers may want to keep their hands to themselves next time they board a plane. That, or furiously scrub their tray tables and arm rests in a bid to stave of the unsettling levels of germs that appear to be flying along with us.

Planes are a hotbed for nasty microbes that can make us sick. Sure, germs are everywhere, but research conducted by Travelmath, an online trip calculator, discovered airports and airplanes are dirtier than your home, and that tray tables are the dirtiest surfaces of the lot – with more germs found there than on airplane toilets and seatbelt buckles combined.
To work out just how unhygienic our airports and airplanes really are, Travelmath sent a microbiologist to take samples from five airports and four flights. The scientist collected 26 samples, which were stored in sterile broth and sent to a lab to determine just how many sickness-causing bacteria were present per square inch, measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). The results may put you off you next airplane meal:


Microbiologist swabbed various surfaces that are repeatedly touched or handled by travellers to reveal the dirtiest places at the airport and on the plane. Tray tables took the cake, with labs detecting 2,155 CFUs per square inch. That makes tray tables roughly 12 times as bacteria-laden as the average home loo, the study found.

“Since this could provide bacteria direct transmission to your mouth, a clear takeaway from this is to eliminate any direct contact your food has with the tray table,” Travelmath’s findings states.


Unsurprisingly, the study found airport drinking fountains to be fairly unhygienic, with 1,240 CFUs per square inch detected. Considering that water fountains are often fondled, and many times groped by the thousands of people passing through airports, you may want to buy bottled water instead.


Next on the list are seatbelt buckles at 230 CFUs per square inch, and overhead air vents at 285 CFUs per square inch. These areas are touched many times during an average flight, yet sadly, don’t appear to be getting the full sanitisation whack they, along with their tray table cousins, sorely deserve.


You’d think airport and airplane loo’s would be bacteria havens, yet compared to other areas, they’re not too bad. They’re not too great either, with airplane flush buttons harbouring 265 CFUs per square inch and airport dunny locks hosting 70 CFUs per square inch. As the Travelamath report concludes, comparatively, cleaner toilets make sense.
“Regular cleaning schedules mean these surfaces are sanitised more frequently. This is a good thing; while not discrediting the importance of cleaning all major surfaces between flights, bathrooms have the most potential for fecal coliforms to spread.”



It’s doubtful anyone will look at their tray table the same way after reading this! The same goes for the rest of plane which due to maintenance cut-backs and other pressures just doesn’t seem to get the proper clean it needs. In times like these it pays to take matters into your own hands.

  • In Wet Wipes we trust: No self respecting travelling gal leaves home without a packet of wipes, so reach for these when you first encounter your seat and give everything a good, long wipe. When shopping for wipes make sure it says ‘anti-bacterial’ on the packet, as some wipes, like those for sensitive skin, might lack in germ obliterating power. If you’re erring on the side of mega cleanliness, bring along a small pack of proper household cleaning wipes to do the job. You could also decant a couple of sheets into a ziplock plastic bag. Wipe the tray table like your life depends on it, but don’t forget the tray table switch, arm rests, entertainment screen (especially if it’s a touch screen) and controls, general buttons and switches, the air conditioner vent and the window area if you’re in a window seat.
  • Sanitise your hands: Give your paws a once over before and after visiting the loo, especially if hot water and soap are unavailable. Germaphobe hot tip – use a paper napkin when unlocking the airplane toilet door and throw it in the bin as you leave the loo.
  • Shoes please: Don’t walk around barefoot on planes – who would do that?-  as carpets aren’t cleaned regularly, never mind the toilet floor. The same goes for walking around in socks. You’re bringing whatever was out there back to your seat area. Rather pad around in a pair of thongs or slip on sneakers that can be kicked safely away from your seat and bag.
  • Use a nose spray: Your nasal passage is your primary defence against airborne bacteria and viruses. Flying high in the sky dries out your nose and throat which disrupts the process and exposes you to getting sick. Instead, use a nose spray to keep your nose and throat moist and in bacteria-fighting order.
  • Bring your own blanket:Did you know that as a fairly standard practice, freshly washed blankets and pillows are only handed out to the first flights of the day? After that, they’re reused. If only there was a way of un-knowing that. It’s farily simple, BYO inflatable pillow and blanket.

Protecting your health mid-air is serious business. Nothing ruins a holiday faster than touching down with a lurgy. Take care of yourself by giving your seat an anti-bacterial freshen up and sanitising your hands after loo visits and before eating.

If that airplane lurgy turns into something more serious or you find yourself heading towards hospital with a medical emergency, our 24 /7 emergency assistance can help you find the care you need. Remember you can call anytime from overseas, and reverse charge calls are accepted.

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