A Germ Expert Explains Exactly How Gross It Is Not to Shower After a Flight

Photo: Getty Images/SDI Productions
After a long flight, before you kick off your shoes and crawl into your cozy bed, you might want to take a quick detour to the bathroom for a shower to wash away the airplane germs. According to microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Filesairplanes are pretty gross. "Airplanes have their own microbiome and the most common types are those from human skin, which isn’t surprising considering we're all constantly shedding bacteria," he says. "As for the germiest place? It's the headrest, where you'll not only find bacteria, but also yeasts and molds." So much for falling asleep with ease.

"If it’s a short haul, you may not have to worry about it, as you'll have the same exposure as you might in an office building. But as the flights get longer, the microbes on your skin can grow and that can get a bit smelly," says Tetro. "If you do happen to pick up bacteria or fungi that’s not your own, this may lead to itchiness and bumps on the skin and scalp. Showering after flights is probably a good thing—regardless of the length!—if only to have that clean feel after being cooped up in a cabin."

If you don't shower and bacteria and fungi do catch a ride back to your hotel with you, Tetro says you may end up depositing germs that aren't your own into your new space—particularly your bed. "But showering with soap—and shampoo for the hair—removes any of the germs you may have picked up, as well as reduces the levels of your own that have grown over time," he says.

There you have it. You might not want to hop right in the shower after flying, but it could save you from germs invading you and your space. And if you need another reason to make you take that extra step, Tetro says there's another benefit of showering after travel, too: "Research has revealed that taking a shower—and especially a bath—can improve our mental state in terms of anxiety, anger, fatigue, and confusion. So while you feel clean on the outside, you may also feel more refreshed on the inside."

Here's what you should (and shouldn't) do on an airplane to stay healthy. Then snag the $6 earplugs an off-duty flight attendant uses to get some sleep during flights.

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