And we’re not even talking the toilets.
Two caveats before we get into this cavalcade of stomach-churning, virus-breeding hideousness. First the research published in the fun-sounding BMC Infectious Diseases Journal came from 2018. Back when more than one Corona was something that happened at the swim-up bar. Second, in light of these microscopic bastards, airport cleaning has almost certainly become more thorough.
That said, us humans are dirty little grubs – fact – often despite our best efforts. Just look at the Omicron numbers. A doff of the PPE visor BTW must go to the intrepid swabbers from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare as well as researchers from the University of Nottingham who found – deep breath – traces of 10 distinct respiratory viruses in their airport study. We’re talking rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza A and our old fave corona to mention just a few. Which means you probably still should avoid the following areas next time you’re in transit – or at the very least douse yourself or loved ones in sani before and after.
1. The kids’ play area
The oversized ride-on animals, jungle gyms and slides can be a godsend for frazzled parents whose offspring have been cooped up on a plane for hours but in 67 per cent of the swabs carried out by the researchers, one piece alone was crawling with cooties.
2. The carry-on trays
Picture how many sweaty, anxious fingers have handled that grey plastic tray you’re popping your laptop in. Actually, you don’t have to. The Finnish team found that fully half of those they swabbed – the trays, not the people – carried traces of a respiratory virus. “We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” the study’s authors wrote, noting that viruses tend to survive longer on non-porous plastic surfaces.
3. The retail pay points
Did you that if you hold your debit or credit card just above the terminal, the sale will still go through? Perhaps it’s obvs to you but it took this writer ages to figure out that contactless meant exactly that. Why does this matter? Because the researchers found half of their swabs at an airport pharmacy card pay terminal contained viral traces.
4. Passport control windows
Repeat after us, there’s no reason to touch the plexi as your docs are examined. Especially since a third of those examined by researchers were found to be less than sanitary.
5. The drinking fountains
Look, it’s a nice touch and chances are you’re stepping off the flight dryer than a Saharan summer but it’s probably best to buy one of the ludicrously overpriced bottles of water in the terminal. We take no pleasure in advising you to submit to this aqueous gouge. But know this: in a study commissioned by InsuranceQuotes.com, 18 tests were conducted across six surfaces from three major U.S. airports during the busy holiday travel season and it was found that the actual buttons on the water fountains were among the filthiest spots in the entire airport. How revolting exactly? They had an average of 19,181 viable bacteria and fungal cells per square inch. By comparison, most household toilet seats have an average of 172 of the scary sounding colony forming units (CFU).
6. The waiting area seats
You know how it’s called a gate lounge? You may want to make that a gate stand. The InsuranceQuotes.com data revealed an average of 21,630 CFU on chair armrests in boarding areas at gates.
7. The computerised check-in kiosks
If possible we’d suggest checking in on your phone or home computer beforehand. Because once you’re in the terminal it’s all touch screens and strangers’ fingers. Which things get mighty grubby mighty quickly and despite their best efforts, airlines simply can’t ensure every single kiosk is wiped down every single time. According to the InsuranceQuotes.com study, self-check-in kiosks contain an average of 253,857 CFU, with researchers noting that one kiosk that was tested had more than 1 million CFU. Again, most household toilet seats have an average of 172 CFU.