Unexpected airport surface ‘harbours more germs than a public toilet’

Sep 06, 2018

Airports are some of the busiest places in the world which means the risk of catching something nasty from a fellow traveller is much higher.

While it’s common sense to wash your hands after using the toilet or before you eat food, there is one unavoidable, germ-infested place in an airport that most travellers wouldn’t think twice about. 

A report conducted for BMC Infectious Diseases by the University of Nottingham discovered that the plastic luggage trays used when heading through security checks harbour the highest levels of contagious viruses within airports.

The surprising data was gathered through multiple tests at Finland’s busy Helsinki-Vantaa airport, which saw 18.9 million passengers walk through its doors in 2017.

Researchers tested a number of highly used surfaces in the airport to compare which section was more susceptible to the presence of respiratory viruses. 

Shockingly luggage trays posed the greatest potential risk for contamination – incredibly beating more obvious areas such as toilets, touch screens and armrests. Out of the eight trays that were tested with a nylon swab, 50 per cent detected respiratory viruses on the surface, which included adeno, influenza A, rhinovirus and human corona. 

Rhinovirus causes the common cold and was the most frequently discovered respiratory disease around the airport, however more serious viruses were also present, however in smaller quantities.

For many travellers, toilets were the expected number one result, however, there were no respiratory viruses found in any of the 14 toilets that were tested. Thanks to regular cleaning, bathrooms and toilets can often be the some of the cleanest public spaces in an airport.

Out of the 90 surface and air samples completed by the researchers, taken from around the airport, viruses were only found in 10 per cent overall.

Unfortunately for travellers, while the trays may be the dirtiest items in the airport, they’re also one of the most unavoidable. The report stated that almost all passengers will inevitably come into contact with them when jetting off abroad.

The report also commented on the dangers of spreading diseases domestically and internationally, stating: “They have the potential to be especially problematic if a severe pathogen with an indirect transmission mechanism were to pose a threat for international spread.”

Professor of Health Protection Jonathan Van Tam, from the University’s School of Medicine, said in a statement that the results will help to raise awareness of how viral infections are spread.

He added: “People can help to minimise contagion by hygienic hand washing and coughing into a hankerchief, tissue or sleeve at all times but especially in public places.”


Have you ever gotten sick from an airport? What do you think it could have been from?

Retrieving conversation…