More people travel by air due to extensive routes available and relatively lower airfares.

And while traveling by air is typically shorter than trains or buses, being confined in a space where you breath the same air with a hundred other passengers can be a terrifying experience especially with the risks of air-borne diseases. If you remember how Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread by carriers as they boarded flights from Asia to North America, taking the plane could be a dreaded experience in the age of Zika and Ebola.

So now you ask, which parts of the airplane you’ll likely find germs and bacteria that make someone sick? The advent of mass air travel prompted airlines to optimize travel routes which mean shorter layovers and shorter time to clean the cabin.

While many would imagine that would be the toilets inside the cabin — frequented by passengers especially on long-haul flights — it may surprising to know they’re not.

According to travel website, the dirtiest spot in a plane is the very surface that our food rests on — the tray table. A test made on five airports and four flights in the US.

“Since this could provide bacteria direct transmission to your mouth, a clear takeaway from this is to eliminate any direct contact your food has with the tray table. It’s also advisable to bring hand sanitiser for any other dirty surface you may touch along your journey,” reads the advisory report by the website.

“Bathrooms were some of the cleaner surfaces tested, which may be contrary to conventional thought. Regular cleaning schedules mean these surfaces are sanitised more frequently. This is a good thing; while not discrediting the importance of cleaning all major surfaces between flights, bathrooms have the most potential for faecal coliforms to spread,” it added.

A team of microbiologists tested drinking fountain buttons, overhead air vents, seatbelt buckles, bathroom stall locks and a few others. The highest concentration of colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch was found on tray tables.

Dirtiest surfaces / places on airplaces:

  1. Tray table: 2,155 CFU/sq. in.
  2. Drinking fountain buttons: 1,240 CFU/sq. in.
  3. Overhead air vents: 285 CFU/sq. in.
  4. Lavatory flush buttons: 265 CFU/sq. in.
  5. Seatbelt buckles: 230 CFU/sq. in.
  6. Bathroom stall locks: 70 CFU/sq. in.

If there is a good news out of the report, it’s that all 26 samples from airports and planes were negative for the presence of faecal coliforms such as E. coli, which can potentially be infectious.

To stay clean, or at least reduce presence of germs during flights, passengers are advised of the following practices.

  1. Antibacterial wipes on anything you may touch (food tray, seat belt, entertainment system, even headphones wrapped in plastic)
  2. Wear face masks
  3. Before flight stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep
  4. Avoid touching surfaces in the bathroom (use toilet paper)