Filthy: Airport Security Checkpoints & Trays Carry More Cold Germs Than Toilets


According to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute the airport security checkpoint is one of the filthiest locations at the airport, harboring more germs than toilets.

Obviously all surfaces that people touch on a regular basis are a cesspool of bacteria but apparently the security checkpoint is one of the worst offenders.

We can’t escape germs in daily life even though some people love to carry hand sanitizer and wipes with them at all times to get rid of as many as possible.

Now as part of a study, scientists from the University of Nottingham in England and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare swabbed frequently touched surfaces at Helsinki Airport in Finland during and after peak hours in the winter of 2016 and picked up traces of rhinovirus, the source of the common cold, and of the influenza A virus.

The New York Times (access here) had an article yesterday outlining the findings published originally in the BMC Report (see here).

Airport security is there to protect you, but it may also give you the sniffles — or worse.

To all the places and surfaces we’ve been warned are teeming with germs or bacteria — your pets, the subway seat, airplane cabins, the A.T.M. — add the airport security tray.

The plastic trays — used at airport checkpoints around the globe and touched by millions of passengers as they drop shoes, laptops, luggage and other items into them to clear X-ray scanners — have been found to harbor a variety of germs, including the ones responsible for the common cold, according to researchers in Europe. …

They found traces on half the luggage trays, more than on any of the other surfaces they tested. None of these viruses were found on toilet surfaces at the airport, they said. …

Finavia, the company that operates Helsinki Airport, said in an email: “At Finavia airports, the hygiene protocols are carried in accordance to health officials’ requirements — all surfaces are cleaned daily and all security check point trays, etc., are washed regularly.”

The results of the study did not prove that the viruses found can cause disease, the researchers’ statement said. But previous research had proved that microbes can survive on various surfaces for several days.

The BMC Report mostly contains wordings familiar to medical professionals but some paragraphs and graphics are easy to decipher.

We performed systematic sampling of frequently touched surfaces in the passenger pathways of a major airport during the seasonal influenza epidemic, and detected respiratory virus nucleic acid in 10 % of the samples. We also took a small number of air samples, 25% of which were positive for respiratory virus nucleic acid. Our finding supports the concept of identifying steps in the passenger process for potential transmission of respiratory viruses, and informs planning for preventive measures to reduce secondary spread.


No doubt the result would be the same or worse at all major airports worldwide as I expect Helsinki, Finland to be still pretty clean compared to others I’ve so far visited.

Mind you this particular finding concerns the trays at checkpoints especially in the toilet comparison. Well, toilets are being cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day (often by the hour) and are often cleaner than people would believe. I don’t think that the security checkpoint trays are cleaned and especially disinfected in an even remotely similar fashion if at all. These trays among other surfaces are being touched pretty much round the clock so no wonder they are filthy.

Another very bad spot are biometric scanners at customs and border checkpoints and I frequently ask to wipe them clean prior to leaving my prints (not a very good opener for an inspection but nevertheless…). Some officers say they get that request frequently and do understand the concern.

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