Spoiler: it depends when you fly.
There’s only one thing you can’t disinfect with Lysol wipes before you settle into your airplane seat—and that’s the seat itself. So just how worried do you need to be about other passengers’ germs residing in its coarsely woven fibers? We asked several carriers to give us the (dirty) truth.
As it turns out, it’s up to each individual airline to develop their own cleaning protocols—at least in the United States (other countries may have their own rules and regulations, and vary from place to place). That said, all of the carriers we spoke with require either flight attendants or certified maintenance crews to do some form of cleaning between flights—even if it’s just a cursory removal of garbage, spot-vacuuming, and refreshing of the lavatories.
If you’re particularly germ-averse, the time of day—or even the time of month—you choose to fly can have an impact on your seat’s cleanliness, however. Most carriers schedule a more thorough scrub, when crews wipe down seats and tray tables with disinfectants, for when a plane overnights at an airport. (So first-thing-in-the-morning flights are inherently cleaner than the evening’s last departures.) Carriers also schedule “deep cleans” every month or so to launder seat covers and shampoo the carpets—but those are harder to predict. Maybe you’ll know them when you smell them.
Melanie Lieberman is the Assistant Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melanietaryn.