Can You Avoid Encounters With Bed Bugs Aboard Airplanes?

“After I touched down, I noticed my arms and back had a cluster of bed bug bites. As it was a daytrip to HK, these bites could not have come from anywhere apart from the plane.”

Can You Avoid Encounters With Bed Bugs Aboard Airplanes?

Jiamin Han felt compelled to post her experience on Facebook while she was a passenger aboard airplanes operated by Scoot Airlines — designated as flights 2062 from Singapore to Hong Kong; and 2069 from Hong Kong back to Singapore — during the same day on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 after she initially received no response from the airline pertaining to her ordeal.

This is the eventual response from the airline, which was also posted on Facebook:

Following your report, we have conducted an investigation including thoroughly examining all the crevices around the seats where you sat, such as below the seat cushion, lifting the seat pan flap, and punching the life vest to check for evidence of bed bugs. We can confirm that there is no evidence of bed bug infestation in this instance. However, as a pre-emptive measure, we will be carrying out a disinfection of the seats and the seats around it, in addition to replacing the seat cushion covers.

Bed bugs can spread in areas where there is frequent turnover of people, where people are in close proximity, as well as via their belongings. In view of this, we have in place a rigorous cleaning and maintenance schedule to ensure the cleanliness and hygiene of our fleet, comprising a monthly pest treatment, as well as aircraft cabin deep cleaning and residual disinfection every seven to eight weeks. We take the health and safety of our guests seriously. Thank you.

Meanwhile, Eric Faceplant posted photographs on Twitter of marks which appeared all over the body of his fiancée after flying as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by British Airways on an overnight flight recently.

Whether the articles are written by pest control specialists, attorneys or independent writers, they all pretty much report similar messages: there is not much you can do to avoid encounters with bed bugs aboard airplanes. Suggestions include:

  • Using a plastic cover to protect you from the fabric or vinyl seat aboard an airplane — even though you might look ridiculous in doing so
  • Store your belongings in the overhead storage compartment instead of on the floor under the seat in front of you, as bed bugs tend to favor the fabric of carpet and seats over the hard smooth surfaces within an overhead storage compartment — although that does not prevent bed bugs from moving from the infested bag belonging to someone else onto your belongings
  • Wrap your belongings in plastic for extra protection
  • Bring your own blankets and pillows instead of using those provided by the airline
  • Be aware of your surroundings prior to settling in for the flight: check the seat and surrounding areas for bed bugs — or any evidence of the presence of bed bugs such as their small droppings
  • Do not bring your belongings into your home until you have thoroughly inspected them for any evidence of bed bugs and have ascertained that your belongings are not infested with them

Should You Worry About Bed Bugs Aboard Airplanes?

“One out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel”, according to this article of bed bug facts and statistics from the National Pest Management Association — but read that quote again carefully. You might wonder how many Americans have directly experienced an infestation of bed bugs — at home, in a hotel room, or aboard an airplane — without people who only know of someone to have encountered bed bugs included in that unnecessarily alarming statistic…

…and this article from Monday, November 15, 2010 claims that approximately ten percent of Americans claim that they — or someone they know — has had a problem with bed bugs, with the statistic doubling in densely populated urban areas in the northeastern United States.

“It may not be quite as bad as that, but there is no doubt that bed bug infestations are being reported more often and from more and more places world wide” is what Harold Harlan — who was a career bug expert for the military and is cited as a prominent authority on bed bugs — said in response to being asked during a television program called Dateline for NBC News if the threat pertaining to bed bugs is as bad as it appears. “Many factors probably have contributed to this apparently sudden bed bug resurgence. It is hard to say any one factor is the most important in every situation. A few of the most probable factors include:  much more rapid travel over greater distances on both a local and global scale (e.g., flying to or from Europe, Africa, Asia, etc., or any closer destination, in less than 24 hours); much less current overall public and PMP knowledge about these bugs, their biology and effective control strategies (i.e., many PMPs in developed countries have only begun trying to learn about and control bed bugs in the last 3-5 years); changes in available properly-labeled insecticides to less toxic, less persistent, chemical active ingredients and formulations; and some construction practices and furniture design choices in hotels, motels, and homes.”

In this article from January of 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States states that “Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.” No specific statistics were provided in that article pertaining to the chances of encountering bed bugs directly.

A total of 18 discussions have been posted on FlyerTalk within a span of 13 years pertaining to encounters with bed bugs aboard airplanes — the majority of them from articles and not from personal experiences — and that unscientific statistic includes at least two duplicate discussions which were locked.

Summary

Encounters with bed bugs aboard airplanes is a problem which should be eradicated — but although there is little you can do to protect yourself from that happening, the good news seems to be from the cited aforementioned information that your chances of that experience occurring aboard an airplane are minimal. I am fortunate to have never had any encounters with bed bugs up to this point — nor do I know anyone who has experienced a problem with bed bugs…

…but if you are truly concerned about becoming one of those “lucky” people — or if you already have experienced an encounter with bed bugs — please read this article pertaining to how to prevent bed bugs from coming home with you for more detailed information on what you can do to protect yourself and your home from this pest.

Content Providers of the photograph of a bed bug, which is used under the Creative Commons 3.0 license and is found here: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photography Credit: Piotr Naskrecki.

3 thoughts on “Can You Avoid Encounters With Bed Bugs Aboard Airplanes?”

  1. colleen says:

    Am I the only one who suddenly gets an itch (or several) while reading articles like this?

  2. Bed bugs have definitely been one of my travel fears… because I know a good friend who suffered a bed bug infestation. It took him so much effort to get rid of it from his home, and his arms and legs were pretty much covered in bites by the time he was able to get a handle on the infestation (it made me feel itchy just to see it!). I don’t obsess over it on airplanes but I do have a habit of quickly peeling off the linens at hotels and AIRBNBs to check the sheets and mattress corner for any critters or weird droppings to check for bed bug signs. Checking the entire mattress is probably safer… but I have to be careful not to obsess over it too much.. =)

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Bed bugs are more of an annoying pest than anything, Army @ ClimberMonkeysAbroad, as they are not harmful to most people — but nobody wants to deal with that persistent itching.

      I ensure that my bag is on a hard surface — such as on a table or on a shelf in a closet — as far away from fabric as possible; and I do a cursory check of the beds as well. I have been fortunate up until this point.

      As for bed bugs aboard airplanes, I rarely think about it because the chances of that happening are significantly lower than in hotel rooms; so hopefully the only itching that you will “feel” is what you imagine in your mind.

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