Air quality in planes is awful

It’s hard to call this one a secret, since everyone seems to complain about it. However, despite these complaints, which are typically voiced by airline employees and their union representatives, very little has been done to address these concerns. The air we breathe on airplanes is a combination of recycled cabin air and “bleed air,” which is outside air compressed by the engine.

Passengers travel on a low cost flight to Dinard in France on May 15, 2006 from London. Low cost airlines are increasing their market share in Europe by offering flights as low as 14 pence (plus taxes) to destinations across the Continent.
Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images

Obviously, recycled cabin air is concerning due to the prevalence of airborne viruses that spread easily on airplanes, but “bleed air” is dangerous for other reasons. While you would assume the air that passes through the engine is filtered before it enters the cabin, this is rarely the case. This means toxic fumes can potentially be pumped in, carrying carcinogens and other harmful chemicals.

Air quality in hotels isn’t much better

Ideally, the air filter in your hotel room HVAC system gets swapped out regularly. But that’s ideally. There’s also the question of whether that vent gets dusted and wiped down frequently. If not, turning on the AC might do more harm than good.

Building engineer at the Registry Headquarters, Mike Shearns, holds an air filter from and air vent in the ceiling of the 9th floor which he inspected. The ninth floor housed the payroll department, where many employees felt the effects of the bad air.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Fortunately, many hotels have taken note of visitors’ complaints about feeling stuffy following an overnight stay and have begun providing air purifiers and filters as part of the accommodation.

Your cup of hotel coffee is a veritable petri dish

When you rise in the morning after a late night on the town in whatever your vacation destination, a cup of coffee is almost mandatory. But if you’re tempted to reach for that “fresh” pot of hotel coffee, you may want to think twice …

Used room-service items are left on a tray outside a room at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Democratic Party strategists are meeting prior to the 1988 Democratic Convention to be held in Atlanta
Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images

The University of Valencia performed a study of nine Nespresso coffee makers found in hotel rooms that had been used for at least a year. “All the machines revealed a significant bacterial diversity, with the total number of identified genera ranging from 35 to 67,” the report concluded. In a separate investigation, a maid was observed using the same towel she used on the bathroom floor to wipe down the coffee pot. Yuck.

Don’t set your toothbrush down on the bathroom counter

Just don’t. It doesn’t take a genius to ascertain why — the bathroom is a great place to find germs. According to a Travelmath study, the bathroom counter consistently had the most germs of any surface in hotel rooms.

A cleaning woman wears a face mask while she cleans a bathroom at a hotel in San Salvador on May 4, 2009. El Salvador has confirmed its first two cases of swine flu, the country's health minister said Sunday as clinics and public hospitals to stepped up measures to combat the dreaded viral disease.
Jose CABEZAS/AFP via Getty Images

When you need to set your toothbrush down after you finish brushing your teeth, consider putting it back in your bag of toiletries instead of on the counter. While the bathroom counter may be the worst location in terms of germs, it’s far from the only place you’ll find them …

Wipe down that remote

If you’ve never thought about this, you must be thrilled to have it brought to your attention: The remote controls in hotel rooms are absolutely teeming with germs. Travelmath says that on average, 2,002,300 colony-forming units can be found on hotel remotes — and that’s just in five-star hotels.

In standby mode most electrical appliances use almost as much energy as they do when they are working. By reducing the amount of items left on standby, energy use can be reduced.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you ever wondered why you seem to get sick following a vacation, there’s a decent chance the television remote is to blame. It may be prudent to invest in some disinfecting wipes to clean off those buttons before you settle in for the evening and flip on the TV.

People often use the tray tables on flights to change diapers

It seems pretty obvious that those tables are for eating off of, but apparently some people didn’t get the memo. Fortunately, a cleaning crew comes in and cleans everything thoroughly between flights. But could you imagine sitting next to someone that uses the tray table to change a baby’s diaper?

A mother with her sleeping three year old daughter on a flight from New York to Rome. Italy. 22nd October 2017.
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

According to flight staff, this is a fairly regular occurrence. Not only is it unsightly, but it’s unsanitary, too. Most airplanes have changing tables in the restrooms. If they don’t, ask the staff for some advice. If worse comes to worst, you can change Junior’s diaper on a closed toilet seat — it’s not ideal, but investing in a few changing pads will make the process much smoother.

The dreaded ‘HUM’

There is one code word that makes cargo crew members’ stomachs turn — HUM. This is the handling code for human remains. “There is more often than not a lot of horrific things in the cargo,” an anonymous crew member wrote in to the New Zealand Herald

Elissa Totin of Evanston, Illinois, looks for her bags among yet-to-be claimed luggage at the US Airways baggage claim area at O'Hare International Airport December 28, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has asked the agency's Inspector General to join with the Department's Office of Aviation and International Affairs and Office of General Counsel to investigate travel disruptions that impacted US Airways and Comair passengers over the 2004 holiday travel weekend.
Tim Boyle via Getty Images

You never know what or who you might be sharing your flight with. “Dead bodies, organs, blood are obvious ones, but we also carry everything right up to Formula One car parts, exotic animals, marble tables, oversized televisions … everything.” One crew member even described seeing a mysterious fluid leaking out of an item marked “HUM” on several occasions.

Those hotel glasses aren’t clean

No one wants to be wasteful, but no one wants to get sick either. When it comes to your hotel water glass, you may be better off with a paper cup or water bottle. Investigative research uncovered some disturbing details.

Prof. Yasuaki Maeda, a JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) expert, tests water at his appartment in the Daewoo Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images

In some hotels, those glasses never see the inside of a dishwasher. Sometimes, cleaning crews just wipe them down with a sponge or towel and put them right back on the shelf. Worse, some workers even used the same towels to dry their hands. This isn’t just gross, it’s dangerous.

People pee in the hotel swimming pool

Well, that’s not surprising, I guess. What is surprising is how many people pee in the pool. Americans, apparently, are the absolute worst offenders. According to Travelzoo, 64% of Americans admitted to urinating in the pool or ocean, a statistic we really wish they’d narrowed down — who cares if someone pees in the ocean, anyway?

Tourists at Tahiti Motel Swimming Pool in Wildwood, New Jersey
Eric Bard/Corbis via Getty Images

“Perhaps the carefree nature of holidays makes people behave in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily, but the findings are certainly food for thought when it comes to splashing up and down the pool,” said Travelzoo spokeswoman Louise Hodges. 

A study performed by the Journal of the American Chemical Society concluded that a large swimming pool contains about 20 gallons of urine on average. It’s not enough to get you sick, but you should definitely rinse off once you get out.

The hot tub is worse

Most people can testify to the relaxing qualities of a hot tub. Evidently, many people find it so relaxing they can’t be bothered to get up and go to the bathroom. Of all the swimming pools surveyed, hot tubs had the highest pee-to-water ratio.

Health spa of the Garnd Hotel of La Toja. Pontevedra, Galicia.
Xulio Villarino/Cover via Getty Images

This may make you want to gag, but scientists claim you shouldn’t be concerned about the urine you’re swimming in — but just to be clear, you are definitely swimming in urine.

The actual pool might be the least of your worries

According to some hotel employee confessions, you shouldn’t worry too much about how clean the pools are. After all, they’re generally full of enough chlorine to kill off any microorganisms you can imagine. However, the pool furniture — that’s another story.

Swimming pool in hotel, Albany, Georgia, USA.
Victoria Gibbs/Construction Photography/Avalon via Getty Images

Some hotel employees confess that they rarely, if ever, clean off those lounge chairs — you know, the ones that everyone sits on when they’re practically naked. With that in mind, next time you feel compelled to sunbathe, you may want to sit on the edge of the pool instead of the chairs.

The duvets in hotel rooms are often unwashed

Cleaning a comforter is a lot more work than washing sheets and pillowcases and requires considerably more resources. This has led many establishments to forgo the process, washing their comforters only several times a year, if at all. Many guests have heard these rumors and preemptively strip the duvet off the bed upon arrival.

Mexico, Yucat‡n Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Cancun, Suites Gaby budget hotel, housekeeping maid
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Microbiologists have confirmed that the cleanliness of many hotel comforters leaves much to be desired. Some hotels have seen this as an opportunity, leaving sticky notes assuring guests that the duvets were cleaned recently.

Bedbugs are common in hotels

When people stay in hotels, they come from all corners of the world. They often pick up a few stowaways along the journey. Many travelers fear bedbugs and, unfortunately, this fear is justified: Exterminators report that hotels are the third-most-likely place to find an infestation.

Pestec technician Carlos I. Agurto inspects a couch cushion for bed bugs at an apartment with bed bugs April 30, 2009 in San Francisco, California. Cases of bed bug infestations are on the rise across the U.S. with many people bringing them into their homes after visiting hotels and airports. Bed bugs feed off of human blood
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Bedbugs are not only gross and potentially disease-carrying, they are notoriously hard to exterminate permanently. If you spend any amount of time in the company of these creepy-crawlies, there’s a good chance they’ll be hitching a ride home with you and staying a while.

Don’t use that seat pocket

The seat pocket in airplanes seems like a great place to place your book, magazine, laptop, or tablet. It’s conveniently located for quick access and secure enough to keep your items from sliding underneath your seat. Unfortunately, your prized items are guaranteed to pick up a considerable amount of germs if you store them there.

seat pocket, magazine, dirty
Christopher Doyle via Getty Images

While there’s at least a chance the tray tables and seats will get spritzed and/or wiped down with disinfectant, the same can’t be said about the trusty seat pocket. “I ALWAYS recommend you never, ever, ever, EVER use or put anything in the seat pocket,” a flight attendant posted on Reddit. “They are cleared of rubbish but are never ‘cleaned.’ I have pulled out and seen all sorts (of things have) been pulled out from there.” These items include dirty tissues, half-eaten food, underwear, and even toenail clippings.

The flight crew is judging you — but for a good reason

As you board the flight, an attendant typically glances at your boarding pass and points you in the direction of your seat. This isn’t just to make sure no one gets lost — the crew makes a note of your physique and behavior. If you look strong and are traveling alone, you may be asked to help during a potential evacuation.

Posing in the open doorway of an Airbus A319CJ Business jet, four female cabin crew members wear the uniforms of Qatar Airways whose airline has made a public relations stop at the Farnborough Air Show to publicise this new model of executive service. Airline stewards and stewardesses are nowadays more commonly referred to as cabin crew or flight attendants. They stand close together with broad grins showing their varied ethnicity. Middle-Eastern airlines generally recruit men and women from western Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Indian sub-continent dependent on routes and aircraft type. Picture from the 'Plane Pictures' project, a celebration of aviation aesthetics and flying culture, 100 years after the Wright brothers first 12 seconds/120 feet powered flight at Kitty Hawk,1903.
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

If you’re rude or difficult, the crew will flag you as someone who may present a problem in these situations. “The commander is informed in the flight deck pre-departure of anything — no matter how slight — that could threaten the safety of the flight,” writes former flight attendant Simon J. Marton in his book, Journey of a Reluctant Air Steward.

Those beds have gotten a lot of use

This one’s pretty obvious — when you check into a hotel, the place you lay your head has had many visitors before you. But just how many may shock you. According to a U.K. survey, the average hotel mattress has slept around 2,100 people.

Sleep - UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1900: Sleep - Massage love.
Veronique DURRUTY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A separate study reveals something a bit more disturbing. An average of 537 people have probably slept naked on your hotel mattress, which typically gets changed every five to seven years. There are probably some more details we could uncover, but some mysteries are best left unsolved.

The coffee on your flight is probably decaf and not very clean

No one wants to be seated next to a fidgety passenger, and flight attendants prefer not to have to deal with them. For this reason, much of the coffee you get on a flight will be decaffeinated. Rather than have you darting around the cabin and making frequent trips to the restroom, the crew prefers you sleep.

In flight breakfast meal during a flight in business class with Aegean Airlines from Athens. Aegean offers a variety of great and tasty options in meals for business class passengers. They provide also espresso coffee and many options of alcoholic drinks, specially local wines.
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Just like the coffee in hotels, no one gets around to cleaning the pots out very often. The same goes for the plane’s large water tanks, though those almost never get cleaned. Which brings us to our next point …

The airplane water is disgusting

Flight attendants confess that they have doubts about the cleanliness of the water they serve the passengers. In fact, these tanks hold the same water that gets pumped through the toilets. Sometimes referred to as the “galley springs,” the water is so questionable that some flight staff refuse to drink it themselves.

A flight attendant gives out a bottle of water to a passenger on a domestic flight November 19, 2004 in the United States. On flight drinking water quality has been an issue after 20 of 158 randomly selected domestic and international passenger aircrafts that were tested by the EPA did not meet the federal safety standard.
Alex Wong via Getty Images

There’s good reason for their concern — a 2015 study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that the water tanks are “conducive for microbial growth.” Worse, a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency that sampled water from over 300 planes found that 15% of the water contained coliform bacteria. Coliform is typically found in feces, which makes it a good indicator of how sanitary a water supply is.

If you die in your seat, the flight crew will pretend you’re sleeping

Announcing that a passenger is dead could cause a panic mid-flight. Rather than take this risk, flight attendants would rather pretend that it never happened. Telling people the corpse next to them is just drunk, strapping the body into a seat, and covering them with a blanket is the preferred course of action.

A passenger sleeps wearing a mask to protect against SARS on an almost empty Dragonair flight from Hong Kong to Beijing 21 May 2003. Dragonair, Hong Kong second carrier has seen passenger volumes plummet 75 percent since the outbreak of the disease known as Severe Acute Respiratory Sydrome (SARS) in March.
Don’t worry, this man really is just sleeping. PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images

Of course, this is uncommon. However, this information is sure to have us studying the guy in the seat next to us on our next flight — watching for signs of breathing as he sleeps through breakfast.

Really?

Travel really does bring out the worst in some people. Taking your shoes and socks off on a plane is already gross enough, but some travelers seem to have no shame or regard for the people around them, pressing their bare feet against the tray table, or setting them on the armrest or headrest in front of them.

foot above passenger's head, bad habits
Addian4 via Reddit

Of course, it doesn’t help that the feet in the above photo look like they haven’t seen the inside of a bathtub in days. We can only hope someone put a stop to this immediately after this photo was taken.

Flight attendants can open the restroom doors when they’re locked

There’s a good reason behind this — medical emergencies sometimes happen, and if a passenger passes out or needs assistance, the crew needs to be able to get in to help them. Of course, the ability to open the door comes in handy in other instances, too.

A touch lavatory is seen on the United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Los Angeles International Airport on November 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. In January the new jet is scheduled to begin flying daily non-stop between Los Angeles International airport and Japan's Narita International Airport and later to Shanghai staring in March. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner will accommodate 219 travelers with 36 seat in United Business First, 70 seats in Economy Plus and 113 in Economy Class. The carbon-fiber composite material that makes up more than 50 percent of the 787 makes the plane jet and more fuel-efficient
Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images

Every once in a while, a pair of passengers may get a little bold and feel compelled to take advantage of the privacy afforded them by the totally-not-revolting-and-stinky public restrooms. Usually just the threat of opening the door is enough to send them back to their seats, red-faced.

Buffets are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria

That sneeze guard won’t save you. 

The breakfast buffet is popular among travelers looking to save a few bucks, but plenty of evidence — both empirical and anecdotal — suggests it’s not the cleanest and safest option. Unfortunately, buffet food often sits out for a while, and when food remains at room temperature for too long, it begins to spoil.

People stand at the buffet during the DFB LIVE event in the Marriott Hotel on March 6, 2009 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images for DFB

There’s also a disturbing lack of regulation when it comes to buffets. For example, hotels and restaurants are required to change the serving utensil only when it falls to the floor. You’d better hope your fellow dinner guests all washed their hands.

If you’re in the mood to be disgusted and mortified, take a look at this Reddit thread full of buffet horror stories.

Prepare to get diarrhea whenever you travel

Attack rates of travelers’ diarrhea are disturbingly high, ranging from between 30% and 70% depending on where and when you travel. Conventional wisdom advises you to boil, cook, and peel your food, but studies show that even strict adherence to the rule won’t keep you from getting the runs.

 Two festival-goers pass a roll of toilet paper between toilet cubicles, during the 2004 Glastonbury Festival on June 25, 2004 at Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, England. The music festival spans over 3 days and runs until June 27.
Matt Cardy via Getty Images

Researchers believe bacterial pathogens are to blame for 80%-90% of the cases of travelers’ diarrhea, with intestinal viruses, protozoan pathogens (like malaria, dysentery, and toxoplasmosis), and common food poisoning making up the rest of the causes.

If you avoid raw and undercooked food, wash your hands often, thoroughly clean any produce, and carry hand sanitizer, you may stand a chance.

Trains and buses are full of germs

Do you know what kind of bacteria you picked up when you grabbed the pole to steady yourself as the train started moving? Neither do scientists. Swabs taken in the New York subway system detected a variety of bacteria — 48% of which were unidentifiable to researchers.

A crowd of passengers, men and women, Jews and Arabs, Orthodox and secular traveling on the Light Train or Light Rail, Jerusalem, Israel, October 6, 2014
Dan Porges via Getty Images

A staggering 20% of the bacteria found was associated with the human genital area, meaning some of you passengers aren’t washing your hands after using the restroom.

If you need further proof that trains are disgusting, consider that Britain still allows some trains to flush their passengers’ excrement on the tracks. 

The carpet in your hotel room has seen better days

Why do hotels always seem to have dark carpets with such loud patterns? It’s so you won’t notice how filthy they are. Most hotels are pretty good about vacuuming often, but that Hoover is no match for years of foot traffic.

Marina Brown, a participant of the Bridges to Work program, cleans a room at the Hampton Inn. The program links intercity residents to metropolitan-wide opportunities.
mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

Replacing carpets is an expensive task, so hotel owners will often push it off as far as they can. It may be worth investing in some slippers while planning your next trip.

The desk in your hotel room is pretty germy, too

Is anywhere safe? Probably not. We’d all like to think the room is fully wiped down and disinfected every time the housekeeping staff makes their rounds, but this isn’t always the case. Interestingly, in a Travelmath study, desks in three-star hotel rooms tested cleaner than those found in both four-star and five-star hotels.

Businessman Using Smartphone And Laptop Close up detail of a businessman working at a desk with a smartphone and laptop computer, taken on January 31, 2019.
Neil Godwin/Future via Getty Images

On average, desks in three-star hotel rooms were home to 4,687 colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch, while their more upscale four-star counterparts hosted an average of 1,800,003 CFU per square inch. Five-star hotel desks split the difference with 40,030 CFU per square inch.

To avoid norovirus, consider taking a longer cruise

While this seems a little counterintuitive — it seems like the longer you’re out at sea, the more at risk you’ll be — it actually makes perfect sense. Almost always, other passengers are to blame for an outbreak of norovirus, and not poor hygiene by the cruise employees. Short cruises attract guests that are more susceptible to spreading the illness.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) help crew members of Carnival cruise ship C/V Splendor unload food and water November 9, 2010 off the coast California. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was diverted from its current training maneuvers to a position south near the Carnival cruise ship to facilitate the delivery of 4,500 pounds of supplies to the cruise ship which lost power and became stranded early Monday after a fire in the engine room.
Kevin Gray/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

For one, short cruises are more attractive to older passengers, who contract and spread illness more frequently. They also attract younger passengers, who neglect hygiene in favor of drunken debauchery. When you take a cruise, heed the advice of the staff and wash your hands as regularly as possible.

They probably aren’t cleaning the couch that often

You probably vacuum your couch semi-regularly. But odds are, you don’t give it a deep clean unless something out of the ordinary makes it necessary. Same goes for that hotel sofa. Based on how many people confess to sleeping in their hotel bed naked, we can only assume that habit extends to the couch in some instances.

Actor Scott Speedman, relaxes on a couch in a hotel room after talking about the movie Edwin Boyd at the Intercontinental Hotel. All part of this year's Toronto International Film Festifal.
Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

To guard yourself, consider bringing a spray bottle full of disinfectant to spritz on the couch before you give your feet some rest — your immune system will thank you. Speaking of spray …

Don’t bring a black light into your hotel room

Unless you’re in the right headspace to see something that may hurt you, leave your black light at home. Sometimes you’re better off not knowing certain things. But if you’re possessed by a sense of morbid curiosity, there have been numerous studies done regarding the inside of hotel rooms. Their findings: not good.

bed, hotel bed, black light
Inside Edition via YouTube

In fact, one ABC investigation found urine stains in literally every room they surveyed. Don’t you wish you could go back in time to before you knew that?

The last guests may have died in your hotel room

Life goes on. But even when it doesn’t, the business must. Therefore, after the police and paramedics are done, the cleaning crew will clean up (hopefully) thoroughly and as quickly as possible. New guests will be in there in record time, none the wiser.

the shining, twins, scary, hotel
Warner Bros. via IMDb

But it must be pretty rare that someone dies in a hotel room, right? Wrong. People die in hotel rooms all the time. Worse, they often die “unnatural” deaths. Consider how many people stay in hotels during turbulent times in their marriage and you’ll begin to see the picture.  

This article was originally published on Vacation 101: Disgusting travel secrets that will make you gag