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I’ve flown millions of miles and have seen all kinds of crazy stuff on planes, which is why I almost always wipe down my seat and all of the hight touch points with a Clorox disinfectant wipe. And yes, I started doing this well before the pandemic.

Airplane seats.
I started doing this after witnessing things like parents changing their babies on the tray table and putting the diaper in the seat pocket. Or people who are so sick and they just keep blowing their nose into the same wet tissue and depositing it in the seat back pocket. I once caught my seatmate flossing her teeth with her long hair. I was dodging the food particles.

I didn’t need to read study after study about the dirtiest places on a plane because I saw them with my own two eyes. According to the Washington Post, “ranked some of the dirtiest places in airports and airplanes, based on 26 samples gathered by a microbiologist sent to examine five airports and four flights.”

“The samples gathered show that bathrooms in airplanes and airports actually have fewer germs than other things we consider far less innocuous. On the airplane, the dirtiest place by far was actually the tray table. Their tests found that the tray table had 2,155 “colony forming units” — a measure of the number of bacteria or fungal cells that are able to multiply — per square inch. That compares to 285 on the overhead air vent, only 265 on the lavatory flush button, and 230 on the seat belt buckle.”

The study didn’t look at the seatback pocket, which I think is even dirtier and so does Brenda Orelus, a flight attendant who created the video below on TikTok titled: “Want to know the dirtiest surface on aircrafts?” Brenda says in the 30-second clip: “Did you know seat back pockets are actually the dirtiest surface on the aircraft? They’re dirty then the lavatory, they’re dirtier than the seatback cushion and dirtier then the tray tables. And let me tell you why? It’s because they are never cleaned. Unless someone vomits of there is something ooey, gooey or pussing coming out of there it doesn’t get cleaned. All cleaners do is go in and take out the trash. So all of those germs have accumulated and there’s no real regular maintenance or cleaning of those surfaces. Whereas lavatories are regularly wiped down and sanitized.”

@flightbae.b Want to know the dirtiest surface on aircrafts? 🦠 #dailytraveltips #airporttiktok #travelhacks #traveltiktok #flightbae #traveltok #flightattendant #flightattendantstories #cabincrewstories ♬ original sound – Flight Bae B!

I found a Reddit thread (embedded below) titled, “What’s the worst thing you’ve found in the seat pocket? I’ll go first…” He wrote: “fingernails” and showed a picture of them. Yuck.

What’s the worst thing you’ve found in the seat pocket? I’ll go first…
byu/Pyoderma indelta

Believe it or not, that’s nothing compared to what kiwi_love777 commented: “When I was a flight attendant, I was working the Seattle, Santa Anna shuttle. This gentleman was being very mouthy and rude when I asked him to put his laptop away (under the seat in front of him) before departure. He must’ve shoved the laptop in the seat back pocket. On takeoff I heard a loud, “NOOOOOO” exclaimed in the cabin only to find when this gentleman took his laptop out, it was covered in baby poop because someone had left their used diapers (Yes, plural) in the seat back pocket.”

You have to read the whole thread for the full story but you get the idea. If not, Sea_Antelope441 commented: “I was on a flight. 3 seat groups I was aisle, wife middle, random in the window. Lady has a big sore on her lip that broke open mid flight. She just keeps sopping the bloody drool up with whatever she can find. Stuffing the soaked cloths into the seat back. My wife HATES blood and almost lost it. Lady left the seat back stuffing when getting off the plane. I absolutely will not ever put anything in a seat back pocket. People are animals.”

And this is why I wipe down all the touch points but especially the seatbelt, tray table, armrest, window shade and overhead bin compartment handle. I try to stay away from the seat back pockets altogether but I sometimes forget or I’m desperate.

That’s why I’m featuring this clever product a reader recently turned me on to, which I think germaphobes and those who like to be organized will appreciate. It’s an airplane tray table cover that also provides storage for your personal items.

This handy cover can provide travelers with a clean place to eat and store their belongings. It can hold your computer, tablet, book, earphones and more. It’s water resistant and made with stretchy, 100% polyester that ensures more flexibility to adjust to any tray table. It’s machine washable so after each use, you can wash it for your next flight. Buy it here on Amazon.

I’m almost afraid to ask but: What’s the dirtiest thing you’ve ever found in a seat back pocket on an airplane?


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3 Comments On "Attention germophobes: This is the dirtiest thing on an airplane and here's how to avoid touching it"
  1. Kupua|

    Actually, the dirtiest thing on the airplane is the seat itself. Some people are very disgusting and especially those that wear diapers, adults that is we’re not talking babies here but they do leak too when they are placed on the seat. Can you imagine… you don’t need me to say anything else.

  2. Bobby|

    I would also say windows … which seemed rarely cleaned and the head rest
    in your seat. Toss in the arm rests as well.

  3. Mdcangrk|

    But really, how does an airplane compare to your own car or public transit. For the most part I think our immune systems can handle most. It is just the “ick” factor. Even in First I wipe everything down with a couple of alcohol wipes before settling in. It would be interesting to hear from a few plane cleaners about their jobs (anonymously of course): what their job standards are, what exactly they do for “cleaning,” their nightmare experiences, etc. I feel for those folks – it must be awful.

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