Never Do This When Eating on a Plane, Flight Attendants Warn
Your personal health could be put at risk during your meal or snack time.
Whether it's a 4- or 12-hour flight, you may have the opportunity to buy or simply be offered a couple different dinner options. And even if you don't get a meal, seeing your flight attendant roll a cart full of snacks and drinks down the aisle might be something you look forward to. But over the last year and a half, plane dining etiquette has changed greatly. You may now make it a rule to wash your hands for 20 seconds before eating, along with keeping your mask on in between bites. These are all helpful ways to stay safe, but flight attendants warn that there's one thing in particular you should never do with your food on a plane, especially if you're using the tray tables. Read on to see what precautions you should taking when eating in the air.
Never eat food that's touched your tray table.
Whether a bowl of pasta or a bag of chips, you might be someone who likes to eat at least a little something on a flight. Food can make you feel more comfortable and energized for that long trip ahead of you. And when you decide to dig in, you're likely to make use of what's in front of you: the tray tables. However, this flight amenity is much more unsanitary than you'd think. While speaking to Reader's Digest this past August, flight attendant Linda Ferguson warned that if a piece of your food falls on the tray table, you shouldn't eat it.
"Those tray tables are used for all kinds of things," she said. "During flights, I've seen parents changing babies on top of tray tables. I've seen people put their bare feet on top of tray tables."
Make sure to sanitize your tray before using it.
Aside from keeping your food inside its container when using this table, there are other ways to make sure your space is clean. For example, you should always sanitize your whole tray table with a disinfectant wipe before and after you pull it down.
"This is disgusting," flight attendant Jamila Hardwick told Inside Edition about the tray tables. "When cleaners come on, they don't have time to wipe down every individual tray. So it's best, [to have] Wet Ones. Please bring them on. Please clean off your trays before you put anything on them."
Studies found that tray tables are one of the dirtiest spots on a plane.
Research has shown that tray tables are safe havens for germs. In a 2015 study, flight information site and trip calculator TravelMath collected samples of hard surfaces in five different airports and four different flights. These samples were sent to EMLab P&K for testing. Results showed that out of all other surfaces—some of which included the lavatory flush button, the seat belt buckle, and the overhead air vent—tray tables contained the highest amount of germs. Throughout all four flights, tray tables had a median of 2,155 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch.
Another 2018 study, conducted by CBC Marketplace, also found that tray tables aren't necessarily cleaned often. On each of the 18 flights that Marketplace took—all flying with Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter—the company swabbed the seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat packet, and washroom handle. They collected over 100 samples, which were tested for yeast, mold, E. coli, and other different types of bacteria at the University of Guelph by microbiologist Keith Warriner, PhD. After looking at the data, Marketplace discovered that there were high levels of staph and mold on tray table surfaces.
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There are other rules you should follow when eating on a plane.
Eating food that's fallen on your tray table isn't the only thing you should avoid doing on a flight, especially in the midst of COVID. According to Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, you shouldn't eat at the same time other passengers are getting their meals. Russo told Best Life that it's a good idea to dig in after those around you finish their meals. This gives passengers time to put their masks back on before you take yours off to eat. He also advises that in between bites, it's wise to place your mask over your nose and mouth, for a higher level of protection.