According to analysis done by "Marketplace," a CBC consumer watchdog news series, headrests and seat-pockets are among the dirtiest surfaces one can touch on an aircraft. The episode broadcasting these findings was aired by "Marketplace" on October 26.
CBC reports the investigators took 18 flights between Ottawa and Montreal using three separate airlines - Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter - and then collected more than 100 samples from a variety of surfaces.
From there, Keith Warriner, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph, studied and analysed the samples, testing them for bacteria, in addition to yeast, mould, and E.coli.
CBC reports Warriner found that yeast and mould were detected on a majority of the 18 flights.
Per the "Marketplace" report, the five dirtiest surfaces of a plane are seat belts, tray tables, washroom handles, seat pockets, and headrests. The study issued the following conclusions:
Seat belts had mould and yeast found on one-third of collected samples.
Tray tables carried both high levels of mould and other bacteria.
Washroom handles carried bacteria as well as a high aerobic count, which is bacteria that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says indicates the level of microorganism in a product.
Seat pockets are extremely dirty, with a high aerobic count, mould, coliforms, and E.coli found on various samples.
Headrests are the dirtiest surface on planes, carrying hemolytic bacteria, E.coli, and the highest aerobic count.
One reason for all of the germs on aircraft surfaces is that flight attendants may be too rushed to clean them in-between flights. CBC reports "Marketplace" spoke to multiple flight attendants and customer service representatives who acknowledged their responsibility in cleaning these planes, but contended there "simply wasn't enough time to properly disinfect an entire aircraft."
Business Insider reached out to Air Canada, Porter, and WestJet for comment. WestJet did not respond.
Air Canada had no comment on the story, but did attach in their response to Business Insider an environmental microbiology scientific study that, in-part, concluded, "In summary, the airplane cabin microbiome has immense airplane to airplane variability. The vast majority of airplane-associated microbes are human commensals or non-pathogenic...there is no more risk from 4 to 5 hours spent in an airplane cabin than 4-5 hours spent in an office, all other exposures being the same."
In their response to Business Insider, Porter said they regularly groom their aircraft to correspond with Canadian Public Health Agency and World Health Organisation guidelines, adding that, "Past Public Health audits of Porter have shown no findings. Studies have also shown the microbial environment on aircraft is no different than in offices buildings, homes and classrooms."
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