Dirty airplanes: The filthiest spots on your flights (Marketplace)
Marketplace. Let's talk about filthy
flights. More people. More
flights. Less time to clean? We reveal the dirtiest surface. It feels really, really gross. Don't check in without
Marketplace. Our bags are packed and we're on our way. Okay, guys. You ready to hit the air? Let's do this. We're going on 18
flights. Safe travels. -Thanks, you too. We're taking you up, way up, to find out what's really going down when it comes to cleanliness. You're in position. Where are you coming from? Vancouver. -From Regina. I am coming from Paris. How clean do you think
yourplane was? Well, let's put it this way. I used antibiotic wet wipes to wipe everything down before we took off. When you do fly, do you ever think about how clean
yourairplane is? Yeah, yeah, a lot actually. All the time. Really? Yes sometimes I reach down into the pocket and I find crumbs, and I'm like, "Oh, God!" That's why we're testing three popular airlines... Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter. Good morning. First flight of the day. We're rolling! Taking short-haul
flightsto nearby cities, Ottawa... ..and Montr√©al. We made it! And swabbing all the popular plane
spotsalong the way, to reveal the dirtiest surface. We're also checking in on the air, wearing a facemask to see how much bacteria is on board. Starting with Air Canada. Here we go! It doesn't take long for us to find some surfaces that don't look so spotless. Next...
up? WestJet. On one of our WestJet
flights, we meet the pilot. We're clear for takeoff! While I fake my flying skills, my team swabs some Porter planes. And not all the samples look so pretty here, either. On each flight, we've swabbed the seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket, washroom handle, and sampled the air, too. Portable electronic devices should be set to airplane mode at this time. Thank you. Three airlines, 18
flights. In total, over 100 samples collected. We're taking them to Microbiologist Keith Warriner at the University of Guelph. So when we go on an airline, we definitely make ourselves more susceptible, not only because there's lack of humidity, or lack of oxygen, so we're more prone to it. And we can get a whole range of different bugs. He's testing for all kinds of bacteria, yeast, and mould. What are the dangers if we find yeast or mould on a surface or even in the air? So yeast and moulds in the air are the most dangerous because we breathe them in, they get into our lungs, they'll start growing in our lungs, causing kinds of infections. He's also looking for pathogens. Now, another one we're looking for is something called E. coli. Now, this indicates fecal contamination. Fecal? So, fecal contamination, which nobody would expect on a plane, but -- No. But you'd be surprised at how far it gets. Nothing would surprise this trio. Stephane, Christina, and Connor used to work for the big airlines. They say...
keeping the planes clean was part of their job, but not a priority. We didn't have much training when it came to grooming the aircraft. Our safety training was predominantly on-- Safety. -Safety and taking care of the passengers. How big of a priority was cleaning? You know, it definitely was not a huge priority, and when it was a priority, it wasn't necessarily for cleanliness. It was for an aesthetic purpose. It was just, kind of, give it a nice little facelift. A facelift? So it's a surface cleaning? Yes. As a former WestJet flight attendant, Stephane says there just wasn't enough time. When passenger goes off and they deplane the aircraft, you have, like, five to maybe ten minutes to clean the aircraft. Whoa, just five to ten minutes to clean the plane? So from removing stuff from the seat pocket, to cleaning
dirtydiapers on the floor, or glasses on the floor and cleaning the washroom and emptying the garbage and then they have to reboard passengers and leave, so we had no time to like, wash the table or clean everything perfectly. Given their experience, what surface do they think will be the dirtiest? I'll say the seatbelt. I say the washroom door handle. I'm gonna say tray table. Back in Guelph, the results are in. Keith. Over 100 samples, 18
flights. What have we got here? Well, I was really amazed about how much we actually recovered from them. Some of them are more scary than others. Coming in at number 5, the seatbelts. What did you find...
when it came to the seatbelts? These are nice moulds here. What it really illustrates again is probably those seatbelts haven't been washed for some time. So it wasn't so much finding mould. It's just the levels we found them at. Hmmm. Number 4 on our list of germiest
spots? Lots of people use the tray table on their
flights. So what did you find when it came to the tray tables? This is a yeast and mould. These are the yellow moulds here. So mould's fairly predominant and I guess that's another sign that they haven't really been sanitized adequately. So mould on tray tables where people are eating. That's true. That's the least of it. So that's the good news. The bad news is this is what we call blood agar. This grows pathogens and hemolytic bacteria, and we can see some hemolytic bacteria here. So those white ones could be streptococcus. So, you know that sort of bug that gives you sore throats sometimes and things like that. Former Porter employee, Connor, is not surprised. People look at a tray table as something that we eat and drink off of on our flight from one destination to another, and a brand new mom is looking at it as a changing table. It's whatever's easiest and convenient when you're thousands of feet up in the air. Time to share our results with travellers. Whoa. What is that called? This is staph. Oooh. Look at
youreyes, whoa! And do you know where we found that? Where? On a tray table. Oh, my goodness. How...
have I not gotten sick? This is staph. Okay. We found that on a tray table. Sick. Well, I won't be sleeping on those anymore. To get a reality check, meet Jason Tetro, microbiologist and germ expert. Oh, wow. This is staph. Yeah, that to me suggests that maybe that tray table probably could have used a cleaning. Jason says if you're a healthy traveller, the risk is low. Finding pathogens on a plane, though, that's a problem. You've compared airlines to ER waiting rooms. Give me that explanation, please. So, if you walk into an emergency room, you're in a very small confined space, all right? With a number of people you don't know. Right. -And you're going to be forced to sit down beside one, two, six people you don't know, and potentially could be sick. Back at the lab, it's time for more results. Number 3? The washroom handle. I know washrooms are maybe always not the cleanest place, but what did you find when it came to the washroom handles? So, this is where the real nightmare started-- Oh, no. --Because, as you rightly said, we expect washrooms to be fairly contaminated after all. But what's surprising is the number of E. coli positive samples. E. coli positive? Yes, so E. coli, the fecal indicator. So what we found is fairly high frequency of these pathogen indicators. And also numbers. So it was, as they say, the germ hotspot on the airline itself, or on the airplane. Washrooms might be the germ hotspot, but that's not the...
runner-up for dirtiest surface on a plane. That's the seat pocket! I think what was more interesting than just finding high bacterial counts, we also found E. coli there. Yeah, so we've got to try and think, how would fecal contamination get inside? Our insiders dish the
dirtytruth. Diapers! Diapers? -Diapers. Yeah, everything goes in there. Everything from the paper-thin vomit bags to used wrappers to-- I don't want to gross people out at home but I was saying, I found used tampons in a seat pocket before. Sorry, used tampons? Used tampons. And you said? -Condoms. In the seat pocket? In the seat pocket. What do you think the dirtiest surface was? Oh, don't tell me. Blow my mind! And, what's in the air? I always say that diseases are one aircraft away. Filthy
Flightscontinues. Get more
Marketplace. Sign up for our weekly newsletter at cbc.ca/
marketplace. This is
Marketplace. We're investigating how filthy
flightsreally are. Our results show pathogens and bacteria that could make you sick. Now, we're about to reveal the dirtiest surface of all. Dirtiest surface, what do you think? Seatbelt. Yeah, because, I mean everybody touches that. Tray table. I think it would be the washroom. Do you know what the dirtiest surface was? Okay, blow my mind! So, Keith, what was the
filthiestsurface? So, the
filthiestsurface in terms of total counts was the headrest. Really? Yup, the headrest is the dirtiest surface! How
dirtywere the headrests? I was...
surprised at the level of contamination, in terms of the actual counts, but also we found E. coli, hemolytic, Staphylococcus. On a headrest? Yeah, on a simple headrest, and you wouldn't think, well, it's in the head, it's not going to do anything, but in actual fact, it can give you conditions such as dermatitis. It can give you dandruff, and that's not even thinking about lice and other things like that. So, would you be surprised if I told you that it was actually the headrest? Oh, I didn't even think about that. Wow! Well, I'm going to have to take a shower when I get home, then. Even germ expert Jason Tetro is surprised. The headrest was our most contaminated surface. I was shocked. Honestly, I travel so much on planes, and even I, the germ guy, went, "Ew." Yeah. And the reason is not because of the numbers. I'm always going to expect to see a lot of numbers. But it was the yeast and the mould, and how the headrest is such an important part of our trip. Every airline that we tested, we did see examples of yeast and mould. Give me some insight. What's
yourtake on that? It is troubling when you see it on something like a headrest. It isn't so troubling when you see it everywhere else. What you hopefully are not going to have a problem with is coming into contact with that yeast and that mould in areas where it could potentially cause infection, like
yourhead, and unfortunately, as we saw in this study, there were quite a few...
yeast and mould on the headrests. Right. Time to go beyond the surface now, and check out air quality. Remember, our team wore medical masks onboard 18
flights, for 30 minutes each. To test the difference, we wore masks in the office, too. Turns out, nothing to worry about in our office samples. But wait until you hear what shows up on the planes Let's talk about the air. Our team wore those masks, we brought them in, and I am very interested to see what you found floating around in those planes. Well, we found the hemolytic one. That's the most serious, because when you breathe it in, that's where they start colonizing the lungs and get straight into the blood system. So, how worried should people be about the air that they're breathing in when they're flying? Well, the air is very significant. Simple fact, we blow it into our lungs, and that's where things can get a hold, and so we have to try and protect ourselves somehow, because it's obviously the plane system. What they've got in there at the moment on certain planes isn't efficient at removing that contamination from the air. Time to clear the air with travellers. We also tested the air, found yeast and mould, so you could be breathing that stuff in. That doesn't surprise me. No wonder people are sick when they get off of there, or days later. It feels really, really gross. I think you almost just kind of accept the conditions for what they are, but you definitely want it to be...
cleaner. What do you think about that? Not good. Not good. But Tetro says the pathogens aren't the concern. It's the cramped environment. So the air itself is not really the issue. It's the fact that when you are in there in that tube with all these people who are shedding, that there is going to be a contaminated air source. Right. So, we found the hemolytic bacteria. We found yeast and mould. As people who have been on
airplanesa lot, what's going through
yourmind, Connor? You know, I always assume that the air quality was going to be poor. Flying, you're in a tube high in the air with so many people. Yeah, I'm not surprised. I was getting lots of colds, sinus infections, bronchitis. I was always sick. Any time, you know, there's any kind of contained environment where you have lots and lots of people, there's bound to be germs circulating. I always say that diseases are one aircraft away. Our test isn't over yet. Just wait until you see what you could be cuddling up to. Ew! I wonder how many
flightsthis poor blanket has had. Got a story you want us to investigate? Write to us,
marketplace@ cbc.ca. This is
Marketplace. Three airlines. 18
flights. Over 100 samples tested. We found everything from staph, yeast and mould, even E. coli on plane surfaces! Our final test? Those blankets. Blankets, we picked up a few. What did you find with those? Well, two stories. One blanket, not even a stain. That's good news! A small win for...
Air Canada. But the WestJet blanket? Now, the other blanket, though, was a bit more worrying. We found moulds there, and a high total count. Wow. -And what was worrying was this was in a cellophane wrapper. Packaged as new, but the results reveal a different story. Okay, hit the lights. I'm kind of-- I'm nervous. When we check it out under a black light? Yeah, you see that? So, you can see it's almost like an imprint, just of something... Oh, my gosh! -Oh, yeah. The outline of it. See, it looks like a smear. Ew, ew! But you wouldn't expect this from a, um-- Sealed blanket! -Sealed blanket. Oh, my gosh! I wonder how me
flightsthis poor blanket has had. Isn't it? Our industry insiders aren't surprised. They say reusing products on a plane? More common than you'd think. What do you guys do with the pillows? Do those ever get cleaned? We just put them back in the overhead bin. Back in the overhead bin. Back in the overhead bin. Blankets going down south, coming back the same day with the same blankets, and on the way back, new passengers were using other passengers' blankets or pillows. Not washing them at all? No, because you have no grooming there. No, it's a matter of reusing products to save costs. Reusing them? Yeah. And as for that blanket we tested? WestJet says its investigating because they say all the blankets sold on their
flightsare new and not previously used. One of them that was sealed in plastic, again, bacteria, yeast,...
mould. And we looked at it under a black light. Smears all over it. One would assume that, if it were sealed, that they had cleaned it, but obviously not. Oh, that's sad. See, they're sealed. They should be, like, steamed and - Clean? -Germ free. And you might be wondering about Porter's blankets. Well, we couldn't test them because they don't have any. What do you think airlines could be doing? Well, after every flight, they really should have someone go in there and disinfecting everything. Yeah. Not just the things you see. We asked all three airlines to come on camera. They decline. All of them tell us they follow Canadian and International grooming rules. Air Canada also sent us a study, funded in part by Boeing, you know, the world's largest airplane manufacturer, a study they say proves, yes,
dirty, but no more
dirtythan any other public space. WestJet says they're concerned but they tell us they do their best given that planes are public spaces, and add they clean their planes daily. And Porter says they're confident about their efforts to keep you and their staff safe. But these insiders say, keep
yourself safe. I always recommend that passengers take matters into their own hands, and responsibility, and protect themselves when travelling domestically, internationally. So when I board the aircraft, I bring antibacterial wipes. I wipe down the screen. I wipe down the tray table. I wipe down the arm rest, any video...
equipment that I'll touch. I always clean the table. I always clean my seat belt. I clean the armrest when I got on the plane, because I know it's