How Clean Was Your Last Flight?

I have spent previous blogs addressing the issue of cleanliness (or lack of cleanliness) and hotel rooms. Now, it’s time to ask the question: “Just how clean are the airplanes we are riding in?” I just shelled out a TON of money to book flights home to Hawaii for the holidays AFTER I found out about a new investigation done on the state of airlines’ cleaning habits—apparently cleanliness has “taken a back seat to financial survival.” The results of the study (which I will get to in a moment) made me wince. What’s more, I immediately thought about how irate I would be should my investment in seats on a dirty plane cause me to spend precious vacation time nursing an illness. But, I’m jumping the gun.

Let’s backtrack–recently, the New York Times published an in depth report on the filth factor aboard U.S. jetliners. Reporters noted that the dirty conditions have increased noticeably since the industry’s financial downturn following September 11th. According to the Times, several factors are at play, including the fact that planes are flying at near-record capacity levels. In addition, since most airlines have discontinued full meal service, many passengers flying on those packed planes are now bringing their own meals onboard. That, the Times reports means that “many planes now land littered with a smorgasbord of wrappers and leftovers.” Even more disturbing the paper reports when an aircraft lands, “there are fewer employees to tidy up, thanks to widespread layoffs.” “And planes, which make money only when they fly, sit at the gate for shorter periods, often making cleanup a rush job,” the paper adds.

Delta Airlines was just one of the companies the Times used as an example to illustrate the co-relation between the decline in aircraft cleanliness and the decline in profitability. The Times notes that the industry standard for “deep-cleaning” a jetliner is about every 30 days, the Times investigation found “Delta had let its schedule lapse to every 15 to 18 months. That is akin to cutting your daily shower back to once every couple of weeks,” the paper writes. As a result, the company’s jets started to become dirtier much faster than airline officials expected. When faced with “dirty and dingy” aircraft, the paper reports “Delta reversed course and now deep-cleans its planes at least every 30 days.”

Following it’s clean up, Delta ranked as the third cleanest among big U.S. airlines, according to a recent J.D. Powers survey. (Only JetBlue and Southwest rated higher.) Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the J.D. Power survey showed Northwest and US Airways as having the worst marks for cabin cleanliness.

“These were things that, unfortunately, went by the wayside while US Airways was trying to stay in business,” airline spokesman Philip Gee tells the Times.

He says the carrier now deep-cleans its planes at least every 60 days and is getting its planes back up to snuff. Which is fine, except for the fact that prior to cleaning up its act I wonder how many passengers got more than they bargained for (in the way of exposure to filth and bacteria) as they disembarked from their flights.

How did your last flight stack up? Did your flight leave you wanting to run to the nearest bathroom when you landed?

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.