Many of the rituals around air travel — checking in, security lines, panicked rushes to the gate — can be unpleasant enough without throwing exposure to potentially harmful bacteria into the mix. If you are guilty any of the following five habits while flying, here's why you need to cut it out.
1. Walking barefoot through security
It's been just over a decade since the TSA mandated that shoes must be removed when going through security at U.S. airports. So we've all had plenty of time to get used to, and come prepared for, the ritual of padding through the security line. Yet we still see enough barefooted travelers to conclude that many people have not got the memo that not wearing socks is gross. "Just about every floor surface — at shopping centers, gyms, airports, and other places— is coated in bacteria like E. coli and Staph as well as other pathogens," Kathryn H. Jacobsen, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and global health at George Mason University, told Condé Nast Traveler. Jacobsen added that, due to airports' good ventilation and dry floors, the risk of contracting an infection is generally low for most people, but if you have a weak immune system or a cut on your foot, that bacteria can more easily seep into your skin. Then there's the additional hazard of treading on sharp debris and getting injured. Just pack a pair of socks in your carry-on.
2. Not washing your hands after passing security
The gray bins into which you dump your possessions to be screened may be just as filthy as the floor. Those shoes other passengers have removed go into the bin, remember, and the bin is not getting cleaned before you put in your own things — like the phone you touch and hold up to your face. Tests by TODAY revealed the presence of dangerous bacteria in two bins. "One bin," according to TODAY, "yielded evidence of fecal matter at levels high enough to make people sick." Charming.
3. Not wearing shoes in the airplane bathroom
You can blame it on turbulence, but, for whatever reason, some people fail to score a direct hit when peeing in an airplane's toilet. That means there is a good chance of urine on the floor — and do you really want to expose your bare feet, or even socks, to that?
4. Eating directly off the tray table
The results are in and the germiest place on an airplane is not, as you might expect, the bathroom — but in fact your innocent-looking tray table. Yes, the thing you eat off. Not only does the tray table see a lot of contact from the hands of passengers, but people have been known to change their babies' diapers on them. Tray tables are supposed to be wiped down between flights but often there is simply not enough time to do so. Think about that before laying out your in-flight snack.
5. Drinking the coffee
The should you or shouldn't you debate around drinking in-flight coffee has raged for a long time. Jet Set recently settled it once and for all with the advice "avoid airplane coffee at all costs" for the following reasons: The water comes from a fresh tap water holding tank that sits next to the human waste and trash tank and is very difficult and costly to clean. Worse, that water comes from an even larger tank and through sometimes old, dirty pipes in the departure destination.
"According to Kitchn, "A 2012 Environmental Protection Agency report testing water from commercial airlines in the United States found that 12 percent of them tested positive for coliform, indicating that the water could contain other harmful bacteria."
So there you have it: better to hold out and get your caffeine fix on the solid ground of an airport coffeeshop.
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