For generations, traveling parents have assumed the lavatory is the dirtiest part of a plane. But a study released this week offers ground-breaking new data: Nothing on an airplane is more germ-infested than the tray table.
The study, from an organization named Travelmath, gives us family travelers new reason to spaz out about wiping down our immediate seating space when we board.
In other words, now more than ever, it’s critical to disinfect these tray tables for our kids.
Think about it—once your kids are comfortable in their seat, what DON’T they do on their tray tables? Mine use the seatback tables to color, read books, make paper chains, and as a flat surface on which to set their Kindles. At snacktime, which is basically any time they want at 35,000 feet, they eat off those damn things, too.
Reading the fine print of the report (or subsequent coverage) will make you throw up a bit in your mouth. Apparently, Travelmath sent a microbiologist to test five different airports and four different flights on two major airline carriers.
These experts performed tests on different surfaces at each airport and on each plane. The surfaces were tested for the presence of colony-forming units (CFU) that could potentially make people sick (although the presence of bacteria does not necessarily mean that those exposed to it will get sick). Then they ranked each of the test subjects by the median of the results.
Tray tables came in first with 2,155 DFU/square foot. No. 2 on the list: Drinking fountain buttons, at 1,240 CFU/square foot. Third on the list was another common spot, the overhead air vents, and came in at 285 CFU. (If you want all of the results, click through here to a really easy-to-read infographic on the Travelmath site).
If you’re eager to find some good news in all of this, consider the following: None of the samples from airports and airplanes tested positive for fecal coliforms such as E. coli.
Translation: We likely will get germs, but it’s not very likely we’ll get those germs that could kill us.
(There are more juicy tidbits of information in the study, but these are the only ones relevant to the argument here.)
So how do we minimize exposure? We can avoid the brunt of the problems associated with these germs by being super-diligent about disinfecting our areas when we sit down. Bring extra baby wipes or a small spray bottle of bleach solution to wipe down the tray table, seatbelt, and armrests. Another option is to make sure your kids use hand sanitizer repeatedly throughout the flight. If you’re feeling really crazy, you could have your kids wear rubber gloves. (Yes, this last suggestion is VERY Michael Jackson.)
Germs are an inevitability when you travel by plane—especially when you’re traveling with little hands that like to touch everything. Still, moms and dads have plenty options to keep exposure to these sickness-inducing particles to a minimum. Good luck!