The 7 Dirtiest Things on an Airplane

By: Lindsay MacNevin
A wide body commercial aircraft taxiing Getty Images / Abhishek Singh

Breaking news: airplanes are dirty, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to many who watch thousands of people load into these metal tubes and fly hours from one destination to another. But just how dirty are these airplanes, and which parts are the grossest? Travelmath website recently sent out a microbiologist to swap the insides of airplanes and discover the dirtiest things are. The results are not pretty and after reading you may just be tempted to step inside a Hazmat suit the next time you board an aircraft (or at the very least, bring some antibacterial wipes).


7. The Floor

Empty airplane cabin interior
EllenMoran / Getty Images

Watch an airline staff’s reaction next time they see someone walking in the aisle of an aircraft in bare feet, we bet they are cringing. That is because the floor of an airplane is absolutely filthy. Stop and think about what touches the floor of an airplane; dirty diapers, luggage that has been rolled through mud, vomit, dirt off people’s shoes, food, and who knows what else. Watch the people come onto the plane wearing flip flops and understand that these shoes are an avenue to dump dead skin cells, or how about the woman cutting her toenails at her seat and letting them fall to the floor? The absolute worst thing you can do though is going barefoot into the washrooms, where who knows what awaits you on those floors. Don’t use the “5-second rule” when you drop food, keep your shoes on and pack some hand sanitizer if you feel the need to touch the floor.

6. Pillows and Blankets

An air stewardess covering with a blanket a sleeping woman.
Getty Images / Izabela Habur

For any airline that recycles their pillows and blankets, we suggest not using them, for obvious hygiene reasons. Yet despite these reasons passengers from all over the world still continue to take the complimentary blankets and pillows. Unless it is sealed in a wrap, stay away, because once you touch that pillow you are at risk for contracting anything contagious the previous person may have had. Lice, herpes, a cold, the flu, these are just a few things that can live on solid objects. Many airlines re-fold the blankets and stuff them up into the overhead compartments between flights, and skip the washing stage. As well, pillows and blankets often end up on the floor, and as you have already read, the floor is not a clean place to come into contact with.

5. Window Shades

View seen through airplane window.
Getty Images / Fan Jianhua

There are two kinds of passengers on an airplane; aisle people and window people. If you are a window seat person you most likely want to see outside or use the window as a headrest while trying to catch some zzzz’s. The hard truth is though these window shades rarely get cleaned and when your face is pressed up against it, you should remember that someone else’s face was pressed up against it a couple of hours earlier. Like the tray table, the plastic window shades are potential germ farms and bacteria can live up to 120 hours on a single shade. Think about the unwashed hands that push down and pull up that shade, and think about the runny noses and drool from people’s mouths. Unlike the bathrooms which are wiped down multiple times a day, it’s not likely you will see a flight attendant come through the cabin wiping down the window coverings after every flight.

4. Seat Back Pocket

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Have you ever stuck your book into the seat pocket in front of you, or how about the food wrapper? Did you ever stop to wonder how in the world those get cleaned? The most simple answer is they don’t get cleaned very often and therefore become a breeding ground for bacteria. Next time you are flying stick your hand way down into the bottom and feel how much dirt and crumbs are in there (and then wash your hands immediately) and we guarantee you won’t want to store anything in there. From dirty diapers to food to spilled drinks to used Kleenex’s, everything goes in these seat pockets. It should come as no surprise then that when you see the aircraft cleaners they are all using gloves to reach in the pockets to clean them out. Our best recommendation; avoid the seat pockets like the plague.


3. Seat Belts

Preparing for landing.
Marija Jovovic / Getty Images

This is one thing that you have to touch, for your own safety but may we suggest using some hand sanitizer after you do so. That is because seat belts are one of the dirtiest things on the plane, and not just the buckles which collect food and dirt but the actual fabric seat belts themselves. The fabric creates the perfect setting for bacteria, which is collected from people’s clothing and skin. Seat belts rarely get cleaned, let’s be honest, and don’t get replaced until they need to be. Think about the toddler who is eating crackers and mashing them up in their hands, and then touching the seat belt in numerous spots. Think about the person who has the seat belt against their skin, or the one who blew their nose, didn’t wash their hands, and then buckled up. It is then perhaps the best strategy to buckle up once, sanitize those hands, and refrain from touching them.

2. Bathrooms

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It is a shock to many that bathrooms are not actually the dirtiest thing on the plane, but they do come in at number two with a variety of disgusting discoveries. So what is the dirtiest part of the bathroom? The toilet flush button is actually the dirtiest part, no surprise seeing as how people touch it without first washing their hands. The bathroom’s locks also happen to be pretty disgusting and often get overlooked by cleaning staff. The reason the bathrooms don’t make number one in terms of dirtiness is that they are cleaned multiple times throughout the day. Unlike tray tables or seats; bathrooms are a priority in cleaning. That being said we still recommended washing your hands, a lot, before and after being in an airplane washroom.

1. Tray Tables

Cherdchanok Treevanchai / Getty Images

Meet the dirtiest thing on an airplane, and you just happen to eat off it, place your things on it, and not think twice about the bacteria it may hold. Interestingly enough the microbiologists were not surprised by this finding as next to human skin, bacteria loves to attach itself to plastic. Think about the sugary drinks spilled on the tray tables, the dirty diapers that parents place on them, the grubby hands of children who haven’t washed them in hours and it all of a sudden doesn’t seem that shocking how dirty these tables really are. Combine that with the fact that tray tables often get overlooked by airline staff when they are cleaning and you’ve got the number one dirtiest thing on a plane. Next time you think about placing your apple on the tray before biting into it, remember what else may have been on the tray before your apple.