It's a universally accepted truth of travel that airplanes are often nasty, germ-filled, places. While you can't necessarily blame your last flight for that bug you picked up from the recirculated air onboard, you can blame it for any lingering nausea triggered when you encountered a a lump of crusty, mystery food-and-germ-stuff when you flipped down your tray table.
The surface on which you dine on the airline's culinary offerings has been proven to be the germiest place on an airplane, but we're guessing the cloth-covered spot where you park your rear can't fare a whole lot better. Which begs the question: How clean — or dirty — are airplane seats, really?
The answer, if you are boarding a plane that has had a short turnaround from its previous flight, is not very clean at all. While a cleaning crew does board the aircraft, if that plane needs to be back out of the gate in around half an hour, the crew is only going to be able to tackle the big, most obvious messes. So stray food wrappers and takeaway cartons will be swiftly removed from seats, bathrooms will be cleaned, and supplies restocked.
If they have the luxury of the plane being grounded for an extended period — say, an hour or so — before turning around, they can dive into the seatback pockets to get rid of trash, and maybe even run a vacuum cleaner across the floor, Thrillist reports. Giving the seats a decent clean, however, is still not within the crew's scope. For that, they have to wait until the plane is parked overnight, at which point, according to Thrillist, "galleys and lavatories get a thorough cleaning, waste is removed, and blankets and pillows are replaced. The plane is like the equivalent of when you clean up for company — but not right after the maid’s been there."
While the promise of a clean plane may provide some comfort for those dragging themselves out of bed early for the first flight of the day, take note that United told the Wall Street Journal that their planes are deep-cleaned — which includes drycleaning the fabric covering the seat or scrubbing leather seats — only every 35 to 55 days. American reported every 30 days, and Delta every 90 to 100 days. And all of that time provides more than ample occasions for a ton of dirt — and miscellaneous filth — to build up.
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