$9,000 for Dirt? The Overlooked Cleanliness Gap in High-End Air Travel

When you check into a better hotel, the room hasn’t just been cleaned. Housekeeping completes the turnover of the room from the previous guest, and then a manager goes to inspect and sign off on the room.

Airlines frequent charge far more than hotels do for a night, especially in business class. But they rush the cleaning between flights. Often contract workers aren’t even given the time to get through trash removal before being ushered off to board passengers, because flights are scheduled close together and the airline doesn’t want to be late (“The D in D0 stands for Dirty“).

Off of an international flight, though, there’s a lot of trash! Here are some of the bags taken off of an Emirates flight from Dubai to Houston:

So when airlines don’t do cleanliness checks, or check that seats actually work, that’s concerning. It’s especially strange when they skip quality control in business class.

United Airlines can sell a business class one way flight for as much as $9,000.

It seems to me the least that an airline can do is clean the cabin and check that the seats are working before boarding the plane.

Inspections aren’t always perfect. I once walked into a Ritz-Carlton room where the bed was unmade and a used condom was in it. But that was more than twenty years ago.

I find trash at my seat flying U.S. airlines in business class more often than not. Last summer flying Los Angeles to Sydney in American Airlines first class, a flight attendant suggested to everyone in the cabin use the mattress pad over our seats right away for cleanliness. That way the seat would be fully covered in something that had been laundered and wrapped in plastic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My spouse worked for DL 1977 and retired after 40 years of service. When he was hired everyone was expected to begin their employ in “cabin service”, moving up the ranks but required to have a “stint” in each department level; giving them respect and appreciation for others in their roles and for establishing keen insight into passenger perspective. Through standard work and protocols the dedicated cabin service team kept DL equipment safe, neat, tidy and operational (along with mechanics). They also provided the Flight Deck and FA crews the time to dedicate their attention to safety and service. Once DL executive leadership and their boards became driven by cost cutting and revenue generation cabin conditions, among other things began slipping. We haven’t flown as a non-rev in years and know first hand how passengers and onboard crew are adversely affected by cabin and seat conditions. We know “no mission, no margin” all too well but are hopeful there can be a return to passenger comfort and confidence in travel in general and to their preferred brand.

  2. Remember the AA “clean commitment” PR scam during the pandemic? Frankly, the best time planes are cleaned between flights are when they’re at international outstations. Between the security sweeps and employees who actually have to do their jobs to keep them, the plane usually feels like it was cleaned.

  3. We flew RDU LHR AA biz and AF CDG RDU biz, both planes were filthy. Luckily AA food was good and AF food was very good.

    You’d think if something good could have come out of Covid it would be more consistent cleanliness. Meh….No

  4. Stayed in the Burbank Hilton Garden Inn last weekend. We thought the dirty sock on the floor by the AC unit was bad….until I found the used tampon in the nightstand drawer.

    At least they didn’t argue with our request for a new room. New keycards were sent up in record time. 🙂

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