Amazing Places

The Dirtiest Spot in an Airport Is Not the Bathroom

When you're on vacation, getting sick is the last thing you want. Unfortunately, airports are full of people — and therefore full of illness-causing germs. But what is the germiest part of an airport? You might think it's the bathroom, but a recent study shows that's not even close to true. The real spot swarming with bacteria is not what you'd guess.

Every Bird Gets the Germs

Over the 2017 holiday season, Texas-based insurance company InsuranceQuotes investigated the germiest airport spots, performing 18 tests across six different surfaces from three major U.S. airports and airline flights. They then sent the samples to the lab to identify the average number of bacteria or fungal cells per square inch, also known as colony forming units (CFU).

It may surprise you to learn that of all the surfaces tested, self-check-in kiosks had the highest amount of bacterial and fungal cells, with armrests and water fountains close behind. Self-check-in screens were home to 253,857 CFU, while the armrests at the airline gate had 21,630 CFU and the buttons on the water fountains had an average of 19,181 CFU.

That makes sense: The self-check-in kiosk is the one place everyone's hands are forced to touch. All day, thousands of people are tapping the same screens to get their tickets to board without realizing they're touching the germiest part of the airport. That's why it's not surprising that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, the world's busiest airport, was germier than any other airport tested. One self-check-in kiosk came back with a whopping 1 million CFU. To put this in perspective, an airport toilet seat contains an average of 172 CFU. Hand sanitizer, anyone?

Related Video: 3 Travel Etiquette Tips

Cleaner Travels

The airport may be swarming with germs, but there are ways to protect yourself. Here's a list of things you can do to make your traveling experience as sanitary as possible.

  1. Always wear socks through the airport security line. Walking barefoot through security makes you more likely to pick up a skin or fungal infection like athlete's foot.
  2. Carry mini bottles of hand sanitizer to clean your hands after touching dirty screens. Just make sure it's in a TSA-approved size for liquids.
  3. If you want to lean your elbows on the armrests at your gate, clean them up with disinfectant wipes beforehand.
  4. This should go without saying, but always wash your hands after using public restrooms — both at the airport and elsewhere.

Of course, the best way to avoid the germiest spot in the airport is to skip it entirely and check into your flight at home on your computer or in the taxi on your smartphone. (However, this option is only safer if those devices are also clean.) By checking in early, you're also saving yourself time and can head straight to security with your mobile boarding pass. Happy cleaner traveling!

If you're traveling soon, check out "Happy Travels: A Field Guide to Ensure an Exciting and Smooth Airport Experience" by Amanda Hutchins to ease your nerves. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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For more travel tips, check out "Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections" by Patrick Smith. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Annie Hartman June 21, 2018

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