7 Tips to Reduce Germs at Airport Security

Premier Health Now

When you’re hustling through airport security, you’re focused on following instructions and organizing your belongings – and possibly those of your children – so they quickly pass through the X-ray scanner.

“Everything is so fast-moving that most of us are not thinking in those moments about sneezing or coughing into our elbows or not touching the security bins,” says Aaron Block, MD, MPH, family medicine doctor at Franklin Family Practice.

Time for a re-check.

A recent study found airport security trays are breeding grounds for all kinds of germs, especially those that spread the flu and the common cold.

In fact, the research conducted at Helsinki Airport found the bins carried more cold viruses than toilets. That’s really surprising. Airport toilets are frequently cleaned. It’s unclear how often the bins are sanitized after making contact with thousands of shoes, cellphones, bags, hands and other objects each day.

Premier Health Now talked with Dr. Block to learn how we can travel healthfully and better deal with airport germs.

One key point: coughing control. Train yourself and your family to cough and sneeze into the inner elbow or shoulder to keep hands germ-free.

“If we make this the standard body reaction we can prevent a lot of infection,” says Dr. Block. “We’re all trained to wash and sanitize our hands, but that’s hard to do right after you go through security.”

It’s an important pubic health issue, especially as we move into cold and flu season and holidays paired with heavy air travel.

Try these 7 tips for reducing germs in the airport security line:

  • Stash a 3-ounce container of hand sanitizer in carry-on bags
  • Cover cuts or wounds on hands with antibiotic ointment and a band-aid
  • Use hand sanitizer before touching security bins
  • Do not touch your face, including the eyes, nose or mouth
  • Prevent children from putting hands into mouths and noses
  • Be sure to cough or sneeze into the elbow or shoulder
  • Sanitize or wash hands as soon as possible after security

It only takes one person to contaminate several bins. Those germs will quickly spread as other people use the bins. If hands are not sanitized after security, germs can be carried onto the plane, where they land on the seatbelt buckle or the seatback tray, says Dr. Block.

There is hope. Self-cleaning security bins are now being used at Akron-Canton Airport, and many more airports expect to implement the new technology.