Slide 1: Question. What part of a plane are you most likely to come into contact with bacteria?

Slide 2: Answer. The armrest!

Slide 3: There are four ways infection can spread on an airplane: contact, droplet/airborne, vector, and food/water. Droplet/airborne is most common. Our focus today is contact.

Slide 4: One study tested how long bacteria could last on different in-flight surfaces. The armrest came in at #1, with bacteria lasting up to 4 days, followed by tray tables and toilet handles.

The porosity of the material also contributed, such that non-porous materials (e/g/ plastic, metal) housed bacteria longer than porous materials (e.g. cloth, leather).

Bacteria can last on the armrest for 4 days, the tray table for three days, and the toilet handle for 2 days.

Slide 5: So next time you fly in a commercial airplane, think twice about where you rest your arms – especially if those armrests are made of plastic!

Slide 6:


  • Mangili A, Gendreau MA. Transmission of infectious diseases during commercial air travel. Lancet. 2005 Mar 12-18;365(9463):989-96. PMID 15767002.
  • Vaglenov K. #2283. Presented at: 2014 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; May 17-20, 2014; Boston. Link.

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