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How Dirty Are Airplanes? Aircraft Cleanliness Revealed! Read This Before Travel

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Just how dirty are airplanes? I wish I could tell you that the dropdown table on the back of the seat in front of you is clean enough to eat your dinner off, but as we shall see it’s far from the case. Aircraft can harbour all sorts of germs and dirt generated by human activity and much of that can linger, especially with the quick turnarounds between flights. Insights from flight attendants and industry insiders on the real state of cleanliness in airplanes have appeared in the press or on blogs over the years and it seems things haven’t improved all that much.

It’s not surprising really, when you think about it. If you cram hundreds of people together for hours while they eat, drink, cough, sneeze, use the toilets, and otherwise behave as adults and children do you’re going to end up with a lot of contamination of one kind or another. If your cleaning crew has only a short window in which to clean the aircraft between flights then there’s a good chance the cleaning won’t be thorough. You may have experience of this yourself. You may have seen the smear marks on a the media screen that is evidence of a cloth being wiped across it, but how clean was the cloth?

The Challenges of Keeping Airplanes Clean

The confined space of an aircraft cabin presents unique difficulties for keeping things hygienic. Between quick turnarounds, limited resources, and managing hundreds of passengers, it’s no easy task for airlines and their staff to maintain cleanliness.

According to flight attendants, the state of an aircraft’s cleanliness can vary greatly depending on the specific airline’s practises and contractors. Some report observing infrequent or subpar cleaning of seats, tray tables, and lavatories – all areas of concern for travellers. Studies have found high levels of bacteria on aircraft, especially in crowded cabins, demonstrating the importance of personal hygiene and taking extra precautions.

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Seats and Surfaces

Seats, tray tables, armrests and seat pockets are all high-contact areas that receive plenty of use but not always proper cleaning between flights. Disinfecting wipes are a passenger’s best friend; be sure to wipe down your space before settling in, especially on longer flights.


Aircraft toilets see extremely high traffic but limited opportunities for deep cleaning. Do your part by practising good hygiene, wiping up any splashes or spills, and properly disposing of waste in the provided bags. Report any unhygienic issues to crew members promptly.

By taking responsibility for your own health and hygiene, choosing seats strategically and preparing for your flight with a well-stocked personal kit, you can fly comfortably knowing you’ve done your best to minimise exposure to unwanted germs. And of course, if you do observe any unhygienic conditions during your flight, politely bring them to the attention of cabin crew so the issue can be promptly addressed, for the wellbeing of all passengers and staff.

Insights From Flight Attendants on Aircraft Cleanliness

Flight attendants have a front-row seat to the varying standards of hygiene practises on aircraft. They’ve seen it all – from passengers who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet to tray tables caked in crumbs and stains after a long-haul flight.

“On some airlines, the cleaners only have 20 minutes to vacuum, wipe down surfaces and clean the toilets before the next flight boards,” says Sara, a flight attendant with over 10 years of experience. “There’s no way they can do a deep clean in that time.” Sara recommends coming prepared with disinfectant wipes, hand sanitiser and antibacterial hand gel.

Flight attendant Megan says tray tables and seat pockets are two of the germiest places on planes. “Tray tables are rarely disinfected properly between flights and passengers are eating directly off them. Seat pockets are filled with used tissues, food wrappers and rubbish but are rarely cleaned.” For peace of mind, wipe down your tray table, seat belt buckle and armrests before settling in.

Aircraft toilets may be thoroughly disinfected after each flight, but with up to 200 passengers potentially using a toilet during the journey, germs build up quickly. Flight attendant Chad recommends avoiding contact with high-touch areas like taps, handles and counters. Flush the toilet with your elbow if possible and use a paper towel to open and close the lid.

Staying hydrated is important for immunity, but flight attendant Lauren says to avoid hot beverages: “Choose bottled water or cold drinks. The water tanks on planes aren’t routinely drained and cleaned, and the heaters and dispensers are breeding grounds for bacteria.”

While airlines and staff do their utmost to ensure high standards of cleanliness, passengers also need to take responsibility for their health and hygiene.

How Dirty Are Airplanes - Toilets
Chances Are Your Aircraft Toilets Won’T Be As Clean And Spacious As This

The Dirtiest Areas on Airplanes

Aircraft Seats

Aircraft seats see a lot of traffic and are rarely deep cleaned between short-haul flights. Wiping down the headrest, armrests and any seatback pockets before settling in is a good idea. Tray tables are also germ hotspots, as passengers frequently wipe their noses or place used tissues there. Studies have found cold and flu viruses, norovirus and MRSA on tray tables.

Seat Pockets

Seat pockets are handy for storing items during your flight but are rarely cleaned and often used as trash receptacles by previous passengers. Flight attendants report finding used tissues, food wrappers, and diapers in seat pockets. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid placing personal items in the seat pockets.

Aircraft Toilets

Aircraft toilets see extremely high traffic, yet some airlines only mandate a quick wipe-down of toilets every 30 minutes. The compact space and limited time for cleaning mean that E. coli, norovirus and other germs can spread easily. Be very wary of directly contacting any surfaces in the toilets and wash hands thoroughly after using the facilities.

To improve your experience, carry disinfecting wipes to give your seating area and tray table an extra clean before settling in. Selecting an aisle seat also minimises contact with other passengers as you can enter and exit without needing to step over your rowmates. Staying hydrated will also keep your immune system in good shape for fighting off any germs you may encounter. While aircraft will never be surgically clean environments, a few precautions can help ensure you reach your destination in good health.

How Dirty Are Airplanes - Food And Food Trays

Keeping Yourself Clean on Flights

Keeping clean while travelling in close quarters with hundreds of strangers is challenging, but taking matters into your own hands can help put your mind at ease. Focus on the areas you can control—your personal space and hygiene.

Pack a Hygiene Kit

Come prepared with disinfecting wipes, hand sanitiser, tissues, and a small towel. Wipe down surfaces like tray tables, armrests, and seat belts before settling in. Use a tissue when touching door handles or the lavatory flush button. Hand sanitiser is useful when soap and water aren’t available. A towel provides a barrier between you and seat surfaces.

Clean as You Go

Don’t hesitate to ask the crew for extra sanitising wipes if needed. Do a quick wipe down of lavatory surfaces like the toilet seat, sink, and door handles before and after use. Flush the toilet with the seat down to avoid spraying germs into the air. Dispose of any used wipes, tissues or paper towels properly in the lavatory trash bin.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water to keep your immune system in top shape. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which can dehydrate you. This will prompt more lavatory visits, but taking care of yourself is worth it.

Choose Your Seat Wisely

Aisle seats may have more foot traffic and exposure to germs from other passengers and crew moving through the cabin. A window seat could be slightly more sheltered if available. Either way, maintain good hygiene practises for your health and peace of mind.

Ask for Assistance

Don’t hesitate to ask the cabin crew for extra sanitising wipes, to report any unclean areas, or for any other needs to ensure your comfort during the flight. Your health and safety, as well as that of your fellow passengers, should be a top priority. By working together, we can all enjoy healthier and more pleasant travel experiences.

Choosing the Right Seat to Avoid Germs

One of the best ways to limit your exposure to germs on a flight is through strategic seat selection. The seats you choose can drastically impact how much contact you have with contaminated surfaces.

Aisle vs. Window

Window seats typically have less foot traffic, so fewer opportunities for germs to spread from other passengers brushing by. However, the window itself is rarely cleaned between flights and may harbour germs from previous passengers. Aisle seats make it easier to get up and wash your hands or use the toilet, but you’ll have more people walking by and potentially sneezing or coughing in your space.

Bulkhead Seats

Bulkhead seats, located in the first row of each section, provide more legroom but the tray tables are typically fixed in place, so they can’t be fully stowed away when not in use. This means more surface area in your personal space for germs to land. The extra space in these seats may also tempt some passengers to get up, move around and socialise more, increasing the chances of spreading illness.

Emergency Exit Rows

Like bulkhead seats, emergency exit rows provide more room to move around, along with the same downsides regarding germ exposure. However, some airlines charge extra for these seats, so passengers may be less likely to select them if they are feeling unwell. The doors in these rows are also opened upon landing and boarding, improving ventilation and possibly reducing airborne germs in the surrounding seats.

Behind Lavatories

Seats located directly behind or adjacent to lavatories should typically be avoided. The high traffic in and out of the toilets, especially on long flights, increases the risk of exposure to any airborne germs from coughing, sneezing or vomiting passengers. The area around the lavatories is also more difficult to thoroughly clean between flights due to their confined space.

For the healthiest flight, choose a window seat away from heavily trafficked areas like lavatories and galleys. Be proactive about wiping down surfaces in your personal space, wash your hands frequently, and consider wearing a face mask, especially on international flights. Following these best practises can help ensure you reach your destination without picking up any unwanted germs along the way.

What Bacteria Is Growing On This Table And In The Seat Pocket In Front?
What Bacteria Is Growing On This Table And In The Seat Pocket In Front?

What Flight Attendants Recommend for Hygiene

Practise Good Personal Hygiene

Flight attendants strongly advise practising good personal hygiene while travelling. This includes washing hands frequently, using hand sanitiser, and covering coughs and sneezes. Flight attendant Amy says, “Passengers should make an effort to practise basic hygiene, like washing hands after using the toilet. It really helps reduce the spread of germs in the confined space of an aircraft.”

Clean Your Area

Wipe down tray tables, armrests, seat belts, and any surfaces you plan to touch with disinfecting wipes. Flight attendant Mark recommends, “Passengers should wipe down their seating area, especially the tray table. I’ve seen many travellers place used diapers, food, and trash on the tray table.” Disinfecting wipes kill germs and provide peace of mind.

Report Any Issues

Don’t hesitate to report any cleanliness issues to the cabin crew. Flight attendant Eva says, “If passengers notice a mess or hygiene problem, please tell us right away. We want everyone to have a safe and healthy flight.” The crew will ensure the issue is addressed promptly.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water to keep your immune system strong. While coffee and alcohol are tempting, avoid too many dehydrating drinks. Flight attendant Amy recommends, “Passengers should drink water to avoid dehydration and support their immune system. Staying hydrated is key to health and wellness, especially when travelling.”

Choose Your Seat Wisely

If possible, choose a seat away from heavily used areas like toilets and galleys. Flight attendant Mark says, “For the most hygienic experience, avoid sitting near the lavatories. These areas tend to get messy and are high-traffic, increasing the chance of exposure to germs.” Aisle seats also get more traffic and contact with other passengers and crew. For the healthiest flight, aim for a window seat in a low-traffic section of the cabin.

In summary, maintaining good hygiene, sanitising your space, staying hydrated, and choosing a seat wisely will help ensure the healthiest and most comfortable flight experience, according to flight attendants. Following their recommendations provides peace of mind for your next trip.

Staying Hydrated and Healthy in the Skies

The Importance of Water

When flying, the air in the aircraft cabin can become very dry. This means you lose more water through breathing and your skin. Dehydration is common when flying and can make you feel tired, get headaches or become irritable. Flight attendants recommend drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids before, during and after your flight to stay hydrated.

What to Drink

Water is always your best choice to hydrate while flying. Drink water regularly from the moment you get to the airport until you arrive at your destination. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which can dehydrate you. Opt for water, juice, herbal tea, broth-based soups or fruit infused water. The air in aircraft cabins is also very dry, so hydrating helps keep your nasal passages, eyes and skin moist.

Staying Healthy

The confined space of an aircraft means germs and illnesses can spread easily between passengers. To boost your immunity, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy and exercise before your trip. Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces like tray tables, seat belts and lavatory doors. Carry disinfecting wipes to clean your hands and surfaces. A medical mask can help prevent airborne illnesses. See a doctor about any vaccinations you may need for your destination.

Getting up, walking around and stretching your legs during long flights keeps your blood circulating, reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Do simple exercises like rotating your ankles, stretching your calves or marching in place. Staying active and hydrated, sanitising your space and taking normal precautions will help ensure you start your travels healthy and avoid getting sick while flying.

In Summary

Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids before, during and after your flight. Avoid dehydrating drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Get up and move around regularly on long-haul flights. Practise good hygiene like hand washing and sanitising surfaces. Be well-rested and boost your immunity. Take normal precautions against illness. Following these tips will help you stay hydrated, healthy and make for a more comfortable flying experience.

Reporting Cleanliness Issues Promptly

As a passenger, you play an important role in ensuring high standards of hygiene on aircraft. While flight attendants and cleaning staff do their part, they can’t address problems they don’t know about. If you notice any cleanliness issues during your flight, report them promptly to the cabin crew.

Unclean surfaces like tray tables or lavatories, spills in the aisles, or issues with the ventilation system should be brought to the attention of flight attendants as soon as possible. Don’t assume that someone else will speak up or that the problem will be addressed eventually. Take the initiative to notify crew members right away about anything that could impact the health, safety, and comfort of passengers.

Flight attendants appreciate passengers who take an active role in maintaining cabin hygiene. They rely on travellers to be their eyes and ears for any problems that arise, so they can take appropriate action. When issues are reported quickly, the crew is able to address them efficiently before the problem escalates or affects more passengers. Your willingness to speak up about unhygienic conditions allows the crew to properly sanitise the aircraft and helps ensure a pleasant experience for all.

While flight attendants regularly monitor the cabin, they can’t catch everything. Passengers have a unique vantage point to observe issues with their immediate surroundings. Don’t be afraid to politely let a crew member know if you notice something amiss. You’re not being annoying or causing trouble – you’re helping to improve the travel experience for your fellow passengers. Flight attendants genuinely appreciate all feedback from considerate travellers.

By taking the time to report any problems you notice, you’re playing your part to uphold high cleanliness standards on aircraft. Your comments allow issues to be resolved promptly, helping everyone onboard enjoy a healthier and more comfortable flight. Working together with airlines and their staff, passengers have the power to positively impact hygiene levels and the overall travel experience. So, speak up and make a difference!

Airplane Cleanliness FAQs: Why Are Airplanes So Dirty?

With quick turnarounds between flights and large volumes of passengers in confined spaces, keeping aircraft clean is no easy feat. Flight attendants have observed varying standards of hygiene from passengers and inconsistent practises from cleaning contractors.

Aircraft seats, including headrests and armrests, are a major concern due to direct contact with passengers. Tray tables are a hotspot for germs, according to studies and flight attendants’ accounts, yet they are not always properly disinfected between flights. Seat pockets, used by many passengers, rarely get a deep clean and often contain rubbish. Aircraft toilets, though frequently used, are not consistently kept up to hygienic standards, despite their importance.

To minimise exposure to germs while flying, pack a personal hygiene kit with hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes and a small towel. Wipe down tray tables, armrests and other surfaces before use. Avoid direct contact with high-touch areas like door handles when possible. Stay hydrated to support your immune system, but avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeine. Choose aisle seats wisely, as they see more traffic and potential for germ transmission.

Flight attendants advise passengers to take personal responsibility for hygiene and be mindful of their surroundings. Report any issues to cabin crew promptly so they can be addressed for everyone’s health and safety. While airlines and staff do their part, passengers also play a crucial role in promoting cleanliness. By following these best practises, you can ensure a healthier experience for your entire flight.

Though aircraft cleanliness faces many challenges, there are practical steps you can take to minimise risks to your health. By working together, airlines, crew and passengers can all do their part to improve hygiene for safe, comfortable travel. Staying proactive and informed, you can get to your destination worry-free.


You play an important role here too. As much as airlines have a duty to keep their aircraft clean, we passengers need to take responsibility for our own health and hygiene. Follow the tips in this article, be considerate of others, and don’t hesitate to bring any issues to the cabin crew’s attention. Travelling can still be an enjoyable experience if we all do our part to minimise the spread of germs. Stay healthy and make the most of your next flight!

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