These Are the Dirtiest Places in the Airport
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Hand sanitizing, SARS mask wearing, squat-hovering over the airplane toilet seat. You may think you have your airport hygiene hacks down pat, but this recent study by InsuranceQuotes.com may force you to think again.
Turns out self-service check-in kiosks are by far the dirtiest places in any airport — which, after that initial wince of disgust, makes a lot of sense when you think about the sheer number of individuals handling the ubiquitous touch screens every day.
Researchers conducted 18 tests across six surfaces at three major US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), the busiest airport in America since 1998. Each surface was swabbed several times to establish a consistent sample, then the numbers were averaged to find the amount of colony-forming units (CFU) — a.k.a. viable bacteria and fungal cells — per square inch.
The average self check-in screen contained 253,857 CFU according to the findings, while one particularly potent kiosk hosted over one million CFU/sq. in. In comparison, the average household toilet averages just 172 CFU.
While self-service kiosks were the germiest spots by a very wide margin, the report also called out second- and third-place contamination culprits. Gate bench armrests averaged 21,630 CFU/sq. in., while water fountain buttons averaged 19,181 CFU/sq. in. — comparable to the bacteria levels in the average household kitchen sink.
Of course, the microbial onslaught doesn’t end with the airport. The researchers also swabbed a number of surfaces onboard several major commercial carrier flights, revealing that lavatory flush buttons average 95,145 CFU/sq. in., followed by tray tables averaging 11,595 CFU/sq. in., and seatbelt buckles 1,116 CFU/sq. in.
Cleanliness standards are up to the individual airline, as the FAA doesn’t regulate how often or how thoroughly airlines are required to sanitize aircraft according to a 2017 Thrillist report.
Cleaning crews typically just remove trash and wipe down lavatories between flights according to InsuranceQuotes.com, while deep cleaning only takes place every month or so at best.
You can read the full report here — which will make you want to wash your hands immediately.
Feature image by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees