Bed Bugs on Planes?
I’ve got a bit of bad news. Even though they’re called bed bugs, the nasty little critters don’t actually need a bed to call home. While the vast majority are found in untidy rooms and mattresses, these bloodsuckers have taken their show on the road. The boldest biters have even leeched their way into upper-class cabins.
On a 2018 flight between New York and Mumbai, one business class passenger even tweeted out pictures of bedbugs onboard, leading to the temporary grounding of two Air India planes.
Even worse, customers on a 2017 British Airways flight reported seeing bed bugs creep out of their seatback screens like a scene from a horror movie. If that’s not enough to make your skin crawl, the nightmare these pests cause can ruin a trip even before you land and long after you’ve made it home. For flyers looking for a little reassurance that the unpleasant insects won’t bother them inflight, here are some helpful precautions for avoiding bedbugs on an airplane.
How to Spot Bed Bugs
If you’re unfamiliar with what bed bug looks like, think of a small reddish-brown oval-y shaped insect about the size of an apple seed according to the experts at Terminix. Still, spotting these suckers isn’t as simple as catching ants inching across the picnic blanket. Bed bugs are reclusive and nocturnal so odds are they’re tucked away in the crevices of the cushions. Much like vampires, they won’t come out to bite until night…or when the cabin lights dim. And that’s what makes these bloodthirsty buggers so tricky to discover. You might not notice them until after you’ve been bitten.
If you do spot a bed bug on your seat in plain sight, alert a cabin member immediately and let them assess the situation. Don’t ever sit down or place your bag near one, if spotted.
The One Thing You Should Always Do On a Plane? Sanitize Your Seat
The most unlikely and certainly most important lesson for travelers is how to properly clean an airplane seat.
Here is a video that Naomi Campbell posted last summer
What Naomi knows, and what endless studies have confirmed, is that airplane seats are shockingly filthy places.
The Dirtiest Places on an Airplane
The results are just as dismal for tray tables, seatback pockets, air vents, and other airplane surfaces that rarely if ever get cleaned. While the average household toilet may contain around 30 colony forming units (CFUs) of bacteria, an airplane tray table swab turned up 11,595 CFUs in a 2018 study. Strains of bacteria responsible for strep throat and staph have also been found on airplane surfaces.
Antibacterial Wipes for Airplanes
If this all sounds like something you’d rather avoid, take a tip from Mother Naomi. Always bring antibacterial wipes in your carry-on, and always wipe down surfaces around your seat. It’s your best defense against getting sick and ruining your trip.
Travel-sized surface wipes are easily found online from brands like Clorox and Lysol, and in an array of scents. If you’re concerned with assaulting your seatmate with wafts of lemony bleach, go for something more clinical with these medical-grade SONO disinfecting wipes.
As many of the product reviews note, it’s important to allow surfaces time to properly dry after you wipe it down. “Although our wipes have a four minute contact time, we recommend letting the device sit for at least 10 minutes before wiping off the residue left behind..,” explains a SONO rep. “This will ensure that all the EPA registered pathogens are killed and removed.”
Seatback Pockets Have More Germs Than You Think
Reaching your hand into the bacterial abyss of a seatback pocket is on par with using a gas station toilet for a finger bowl. Both are something to be avoided at all costs. Passengers have been known to stash dirty diapers, snotty tissues, and used sick bags in seatback pockets, and you can be sure the airlines aren’t thoroughly cleaning these things between flights.
If you’re the type of flyer who needs a place to store a water bottle or phone mid-flight, consider taking along a hanging airplane seat organizer that can hook on the seat in front of you. Many are sold in sets that also include tray table covers. Another bonus of using your own hanging caddy is you won’t have to worry about losing items to the seatback pocket anymore.
Airplane Seat Covers and Travel Blankets
Speaking of your seat, you’re pretty limited in what you can do in terms of cleaning the upholstery itself. If your worry level is tilting towards Howard Hughes germaphobe, there are seat covers made especially for airplanes. You might get some looks from your fellow seatmates, but who cares what they think? As Naomi says, it’s your health. But for the sake of your carbon footprint, skip the disposable airplane seat covers for something more eco-friendly or washable.
Again, Naomi has the right idea by bringing her own travel blanket to drape over the seat. Choose something soft and plush, like a microfleece travel blanket, and give your seat a little extra cushioning while you’re at it. Plus, it’s washable, so you can use it again and again.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to use the airline-provided blanket. It may be wrapped in plastic, but that doesn’t mean it’s clean. On average, airlines clean their blankets every five to 30 days, so there’s a very good chance yours has been pre-cuddled (or worse) several times over by the time it gets to you.
Seriously, Don’t Forget the Hand Sanitizer
Congrats! Now your little slice of the aircraft is clean and germ-free! The bad news? At some point, you’ll probably have to venture down the aisle and into–gulp!–the lavatory. Unless you have an open hydrant of bleach at your disposal, there’s no way you can disinfect that whole mess of a bathroom. Instead, go bananas with the hand sanitizer. Most come in travel sizes that meet TSA liquid requirements, or you opt for a sanitizing wipe that’s safe to use on hands. Just don’t sanitize before having to balance yourself on all those germy headrests as you navigate the aisle.
Avoiding Bed Bug Bites Onboard Airplanes
Pick Daytime Flights
It’s not a surefire way to avoid these pests from hitching a ride on your clothes or your suitcase, especially if tucked away in a dark overhead bin. But since bed bugs are nocturnal, the likelihood of them coming out for a feast during the daytime is relatively lower.
Choose the Right Seats
Aim for airlines with vinyl or leather seats. Planes with cloth and fabric upholstery make better breeding grounds for bed bugs. The less seams and cracks the better, as they offer fewer folds to hide in.
Cover Your Seat
If you’re not sure what type of seats are onboard your plane or you want to avoid the germs left by the previous person in your seat altogether, opt for a sanitary seat cover like this one from Seat Sitters. Not only will it create a barrier against bugs, but they won’t be able to bite through the fabric.
Bring Your Own Pillow and Blanket
Do you know where those airplane-issued pillows and blankets came from before you boarded the flight? For sure, not. So, to take out the guessing work and catch Zzz’s more comfortably by bringing on your personal travel pillow and blanket like this set from Well Traveled that are guaranteed to be bug-free.
Disinfect the Danger
We’ve talked about all the health benefits of sanitizing your seat but doing so can also help kill any bed bug babies or eggs in seatback pockets and cracks. These travel-sized Lysol wipes are perfect for the job.
Bring the Right Baggage
Reduce opportunities for bed bugs to set up shop by traveling with hard-cased luggage. Because these pests prefer fabrics, shell suitcases with no creases to hide are best for combatting these critters. For added awareness, buy a bag that is lighter in color so you can quickly identify an insect trying to hitch a ride. If you’re happy with the luggage you already own, adding another layer of protection like this bed bug proof liner can put you further at ease.
Dress to Get Noticed
Similar to baggage, lighter colored clothing with less excess fabric, and form-fitting clothes make it easier to see a stowaway. Also, cover up. They can’t bite through fabrics to draw blood, so it’s exposed skin that’s a bed bug buffet.
What to Do if You Notice Bed Bugs After Your Flight
If you notice bites or bed bugs in or around your suitcase, whatever you do, don’t bring your luggage into your house. Place luggage and clothing items in sealed plastic bags to prevent an infestation from spreading. Isolate your belongings to a region where you can quickly remove items and wash and dry them in the highest possible temperatures. Make sure to check every nook and cranny of your garments, including zippers and folds.
Spraying affected items with a proven bed bug blasting spray can also help both before and after to prevent infestations for up to 90 days.
If you’re not entirely confident you’ve eradicated all the bed bugs or continue to notice new bites appearing, treat them with BugBiteDr relief oil and get on the phone with a pest control company pronto. The longer you wait, the larger the window for the creepy creatures to multiply, along with your problems.
Bed Bug Prevention Kit
Stay safe and enjoy!