If you’ve been to the airport lately, you’ve seen firsthand the chaos with air travel. And sometimes that leads to spending more time at the airport, where your chances of getting sick might increase.
“There is nothing worse than ending up sick on vacation,” said Lauren Bryan, an infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Colorado. “Airports are a mixing bowl of people from all over who have brought their germs along for the ride.”
Although the pandemic has led to more frequent and intensive cleaning procedures in many airports, certain germs are seemingly unavoidable in that environment. But when it comes to the risk of infection, not all areas of the airport are created equal. With the help of experts, we broke down some of the germiest locations and surfaces at airports.
When you get to the airport, it’s important to locate your departure gate, so you have a sense of where you need to be come boarding time. But if you’re trying to cut down on exposure to germs, it may not be the best idea to sit down and wait there for an extended period.
“Sites in airports that are frequently touched but not routinely cleaned include the armrests on chairs in the terminal waiting areas,” said Kelly Reynolds, a professor and chair of the Community, Environment & Policy Department at the University of Arizona. “These can be hot spots for germ transmission.”
Indeed, a 2018 study from InsuranceQuotes.com found that the chair armrests at the gates were among the dirtiest spots in airports. The online insurance marketplace analyzed samples from six surfaces at three major U.S. airports and found the armrests contained 21,630 colony-forming units ― that is, viable bacteria and fungal cells ― per square inch.
So consider wiping down the chair and armrest if you’d like to sit down ― or consider standing up and waiting nearby instead.
“Don’t sit on floors,” cautioned Kadi Banjoko, an infection preventionist in the clinical epidemiology department at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “They are dirty.”
“High-touch areas in airports that are infrequently cleaned include … the handrails along stairs and escalators and the moving walkways,” Bryan noted. But “that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t touch handrails, as falling down the stairs is not a good alternative!”
She advised generally being mindful…