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6 of the Germiest Places on the Airplane and How to Avoid Them

Passenger Taking Precautions

June 7, 2013

Fair warning - you’ll never look at an airplane the same after reading this article.

That’s not a bad thing though. Airplanes, like most forms of public transportation, are filled with germs. There’s no hiding that. Whenever you cram a bunch of people in a tight space for a few hours - especially one with limited air flow - germ accumulation is inevitable. But just like you take other travel health precautions, you can protect yourself from germs on an airplane by knowing where they are and what you can do to avoid coming in contact with them.

Now that you’ve been warned, it’s time to expose some of the germiest places on one of the most reliable forms of public transportation.

Seat Pockets

The seat pocket seems innocent enough, but studies have shown it’s one of the worst offenders when it comes to germs on an airplane.

While it may look like a handy place to store snacks, drinks, and other belongings, passengers like to use seat pockets more like a trash bin than a storage device.

From used tissues to fingernail clippings and dirty diapers, people stuff all kinds of germ-infested materials into airplane seat pockets.

Remedy: Just don’t use them. It’s simply not worth the risk. You should be able to stow things in your carry-on bag or, if they’re small enough, in your pocket.

Tray Tables

Like the seat pocket, people manage to use tray tables inappropriately. Flight attendants report seeing everything from passengers changing dirty diapers to using them to hide chewed gum.

Of course, no one wants to eat a meal or do a crossword puzzle in their lap. Those tray tables are there for a reason. If you need to use the tray table how it’s intended, not all hope is lost.

Remedy: Use a disinfectant wipe to scrub down the surface of your tray table. It’s a simple fix that should do the trick, but you still shouldn’t eat directly off of it and should avoid as much contact as possible.


It should come as no surprise, but airline lavatories are not the cleanest. With roughly one restroom per 50 passengers, they’re one of the germiest places on a plane and a breeding ground for bacteria like E. coli.

Unless you’re on a quick flight, chances are you’ll need to use the bathroom. Luckily, there are preventative measures you can take.

Remedy: If you need to use the restroom, arm yourself with your disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and try not to touch anything directly—use paper towels when you touch the faucet and toilet seat lid. Also, be sure to close the toilet lid before flushing.

Blankets and Pillows

Before you snuggle up with an airline pillow and blanket, think about how many drowsy, drooling passengers have used them before you. And, more times than not, these popular air amenities are reused flight after flight.

Remedy: Bring your own—they’re likely to be more comfortable anyway.

Touchscreen Entertainment System

Yes, they’re awesome. You’re no longer restricted to the one or two in-flight movies randomly selected by the airline. Now you can choose from hundreds of movies and dozens of games and music selections. But entertainment comes with a price. Nearly everyone who has sat in your seat before you has touched that screen and there is no way of knowing where their hands had been before that.

Remedy: Try to entertain yourself with your own materials—a book, a laptop, and iPod, etc. If you can’t resist the urge to watch a movie on the screen in front of you, be sure to avoid touching your face after using the screen and use lots of hand sanitizer.

In-Flight Magazines

While it may be tempting to pick up that issue of SkyMall, think about how many people have thumbed through those pages. The only time those get “cleaned” is when a new publication comes out, which is once a quarter.

Remedy: Bring your own reading material. If you want to browse the in-flight publications, check them out online.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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