The Germiest Thing You'll Encounter At The Airport Isn't Found In The Bathroom

by Cassandra Stone
Image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Airport security bins are f*cking gross, says science

Traveling by air isn’t exactly glamorous when you consider all the germs involved throughout the entire process. From the airport to the plane itself, we are literally exposed to every germ under the sun simply because of the millions of people traveling who are carrying millions of germs.

But according to a recent study, the grossest, germiest part of air travel probably isn’t what you’re expecting.

While airport bathrooms most definitely leave a lot to be desired, it’s the security line that carries the biggest variety of germs. Specifically, the security bins that go along the conveyor belt in the security line. Think about it: all the shoes, luggage, and tech items that pass through in those bins every single day. It makes sense. It doesn’t make it any less gross, however.

Scientists from the University of Nottingham in England and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare swabbed frequently touched surfaces at Helsinki Airport in Finland during and after peak hours and found traces of rhinovirus, the common cold, and the influenza A virus. Literally all of these viruses were found on half the luggage trays — more than any other surface swabbed and tested. Including the toilets.

Meanwhile, moms everywhere are lining those bad boys up with layers and layers of toilet paper so their little ones don’t come in contact with the seat, when what we really need to be doing is bathing our entire families in Purell the second we slide our shoes back on after the stressful, pit stain-inducing security line.

Other airport areas where viruses apparently breed like rabbits: payment terminals in stores, staircase rails, check-in counters, children’s play areas (no surprise there), and, uh, the air. In related news: I always refer to airplanes as the “city bus of the sky.” This is why. I rest my case.

While the study’s findings shouldn’t be so alarming as to deter travelers from traveling, it’s a good wake-up call and reminder that we could all stand to take more precaution in high-traffic environments. Especially during fall and winter. Jonathan Van Tram, Professor of Health Protection at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine says the results support “the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread.”

Ugh. Airports, amirite?

So please, folks, let’s all just remember to wash the heck out of our hands and cover our coughs with our sleeves or a tissue only. And Godspeed on getting through your next security line sans panic attack — or stomach bug.