Bug-laden planes are often blamed for making travellers ill, but a new study suggests that the germs may actually be closer to the ground.
Tests on plastic luggage trays at airport security found that half were harbouring at least one respiratory disease such as the common cold or influenza.
The communal trays, which often contain shoes and belts which are touched frequently but rarely washed, as well as detritus from pockets such as used tissues, were found to have more germs than even toilet areas.
The study was carried out by a team of experts from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare who swabbed a variety of surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland during the winter of 2016 to find out how pandemics might spread.
Researchers say that trays may be particularly bad for transferring disease because they are used by several hundred people a day, are non-porous which helps the viruses survive longer, and they are ‘typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip’.
Previous studies have found that one in five people becomes ill after flying and experts have advised that alcohol hand rub be made available before and after security.
“This study supports the case for improved public awareness of how viral infections spread,” said Jonathan Van Tam, professor of health protection at Nottingham University’s School of Medicine.