a row of seats with screens on the back

Reader beware: some of what you are about to read will give you great joy, comfort and relaxation, while other elements may cause you to cringe. Airlines are very good at marketing things which make travel sound wonderful once again, but the realities can often leave room for improvement.

When it comes to these newly marketed airline cleaning measures, some things aren’t quite as they seem, so here’s what you need to know, so that you can buy “all the wipes” in your local market before hopping on board some flights, while resting comfortably on others.

Long Haul Cleaning Is Better Than Short Haul

People worry more about long haul flights in the covid-19 era, and that’s somewhat misplaced. Yes, there’s more time for aircraft surfaces to become contaminated during flight, but airlines are working on that, and HEPA filters make a huge difference.

Many airlines now also have cabin crew doing regular bathroom cleans, wiping down all surfaces to ensure they’re are as fresh and clean mid-flight, as pre flight. Emirates, Qatar and Virgin Atlantic are three of the best in this regard currently, with dedicated lavatory cleaning shifts, and Emirates even has dedicated lavatory attendants.

a person in a white suit and mask

The reason long haul fears are slightly misplaced though, is that long haul aircraft enjoy much longer times on the ground in between each flight, allowing airlines to ensure the planes are legitimately cleaned top to bottom between each.

One major airline told GSTP they already used EPA approved cleaning products between each flight prior to covid-19, which made the pandemic transition not nearly as difficult as it’s been for other airlines, which simply gave a quick wipe to the head rests, even on long haul flights.

The old cleaning regime took circa 55 minutes, but new measures and cleaning of additional surfaces, such as overhead bins, as well as use of electrostatic sprays tacks on about 10-15 minutes to the process, for 65 minutes of deep cleaning at a minimum.

rows of red seats in an airplane

With more than an hour to do so, all touch points are wiped down, vacuums are used, bathrooms are completely disinfected, and so are touch screens, overhead bins and in many cases, electrostatic sprays are used.

Put it this way: long haul planes are much cleaner now than they were before covid-19, and are genuinely pretty immaculate.

Most airlines hand out health and hygiene kits to all passengers on long haul, including wipes, hand gel and in some cases, face masks too, so it’s really quite possible to have your cleanest and most hygienic flight ever.

Short Haul: Your Results May Vary

Not gonna’ lie, short haul is a very mixed bag when it comes to airline cleaning, and if you were a germaphobe before, you probably still should be. A lot of the issues come down to time, but some airlines are also just flat out full of it, or omit key details in new cleaning marketing.

Six passengers could have sat in your seat, on six different flights before the plane is ever officially cleaned.

Yes, it’s entirely possible for a plane to start the day in London, fly to Dublin, then to Paris, then Prague, then Milan, then back to London, before the plane gets an actual cleaning at all. Same in the USA, where a plane might go from city to city, with nothing more than the lavatories and head rests wiped down, if that.

a plane on the tarmac

Short haul planes typically have less than an hour on the ground for a full turnaround, and most of that time is devoted to simply getting passengers off the planes, and then boarding the new ones.

In other words, there might be 5 minutes to clean, if that. It’s also expensive, and hit or miss based on airport, so low cost airlines particularly – cough Southwest, Spirit, Ryanair, Easyjet – notoriously do the very least.

Here’s the complete guide to which US airlines clean in between flights, as well as those that guarantee blocked middle seats right now.

One European low cost airline’s marketing materials suggest planes enjoy a full deep clean each and every night – which of course does not mean in between flights – but insiders tell GSTP even those “nightly” deep cleans don’t happen “every” night. It all depends where the plane parks at the end of the day.

Hope For The Best, Prepare For…

Service is different between every airline, entertainment is different from flight to flight, and cleaning may, or may. not, have even happened. Self catering, and taking things into your own hands is never a bad way to go, particularly now.

a woman wearing a mask and gloves in an airplane

Bring your own wipes and give a quick once over to any surfaces you’ll come into contact with, from headrests and arm rests to tray tables, etc, and better yet, leave the tray table where it was, it’s always been one of the dirtiest surfaces on an airplane.

Don’t forget that you can always bring your own water, by bringing an empty bottle through security, and that most food is also ok to go through airport security too. Even if your seat has already been immaculately cleaned, there’s some peace of mind to be gained from giving everything that extra layer of certainty.

Knowing things may not have been cleaned at all, it’s even more important…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I’ll simply say some of the largest, most heavily marketed and profitable airlines have never done effective cabin cleaning and today remain #BelowAverage as with their treatment of customers and staff.

    1. Would agree. Did a transatlantic flight on March 13th with an airline that was sending emails about the excellent cleaning they do. Business had crumbs around seat and table couldn’t have been wiped. I was glad I brought some sanitising wipes. They seem to have their own version of high standards of cleanliness. I wouldn’t have counted myself as a germaphobe prior to all this, but will definitely continue to bring wipes whenever I get back in the air.

  2. why at this time of added worries about many issues around safe flights ,do the big companies not devote more staff to call centres so that when customers are really struggling to sort out safe travel they do not simply get cut off .

  3. As always even during COVID I came across what is the dirtiest habit on mainly USA Domestic aircraft. Stale Chewing Gum under the arm rest. Clearly this part of the aircraft had not been deep cleaned for some time going of the hardness of the offending item.

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