The Germiest Thing on Planes (Not What You Think It Is)

by Adam

Your chances of getting a cold may go up as much as 20 percent when you board a plane, thanks to dried-out mucous membranes and sneezy people who leave germs on tray tables (where they can live for up to 72 hours). But now, a new study from Auburn University has revealed that there’s one place on planes that germs seem to love….

Kiril Vaglenov and co-author James Barbaree from Auburn University obtained material from six varying types of material from a major airline carrier (armrest, leather, metal toilet button, plastic tray table, seat pocket cloth, and window shade) and inoculated them with two forms of bacteria while being exposed to common airplane conditions. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) remained for the longest period of time (168 hours) on the seat pocket cloth, while E. coli O157:H7 remained the longest (96 hours) on the armrest material.

The MRSA bacteria lived for the least amount of time on the toilet handle!

HT – American Society for Microbiology

Related – 30 Pilots and Flight Attendants Confess their “Best Kept Flying Secrets”

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ffi May 25, 2014 - 5:27 am

“The MRSA bacteria lived for the least amount of time on the toilet handle!”

You also have to consider the number of times before it died that it was transmitted.
I would think a toilet handle (even if it lives for only 10 hrs) would have been touched by 50 people, while the seat cloth would have been touched by at most 5-10 people

So the transmission rates would still be much better for the toilet handle.
Unless you took the plane out of service for 24 hrs after each flight, the toilet handle would infect many more people every day.

Scott May 25, 2014 - 8:44 am

FFI, if we’re going down that road, I think you have to take it a little farther. Most people are going to wash their hands after flushing the toilet (and everyone at least has the opportunity to do so). The same can’t be said for the seatback pocket.

It’s also easier to disinfect the flush button – a quick wipe with some hand sanitizer or disinfectant cloth, or even just common cleanser – but I’m not certain how the seatback pocket fabric would be disinfected without removing it and washing it, which is never going to happen!

Lastly, I think your estimate of 5-10 people touching the seatback cloth is too low given the potential exposure time. Remember that the MRSA bacteria was found to live for seven days on the cloth material. If the premise is, for a single deposit of MRSA on each and then evaluating how many people come in contact before it dies, I think the numbers would be about the same.

christine pincince May 25, 2014 - 11:02 am

my husband thinks i am funny because i wear a very long sleeved warm hoodie when we fly. I have seen some seriously ucky greasy cootie heads leaning back in front of me and think hey maybe someone like that was the last one in my seat. i put my noise canceling head phones on under my hoodie, pull my sleeves down to my finger tips and use towels in bathroom to never touch anything and yet still often get sick after a cattle car like plane ride as do many i know. I am not the bubble girl but dang having it cost a week of sickness after a vaca is a drag.


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