What’s Grosser Than Gross? Here’s How Airlines Clean Check-in Kiosks (or Don’t…)

A recent study found that airline check-in kiosks are the least hygienic part of the airport.

[S]wab tests were conducted on various surfaces at three major airports in the United States. The samples were then analysed to determine each surface’s average colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria per square inch. The higher the CFU number, the germier the surface was.

  • Toilet seats measured 172

  • Bathroom door knobs measured 203

  • Water fountain? 19,181

As Dustin Hoffman said in Wag the Dog “This is nothing..nothing!”

Check-in kiosks “harboured a toe-curling 253,857 CFU of bacteria.” That’s 1475 times the measure of toilet seats. Nice.

Copyright: TEA / 123RF Stock Photo

So I reached out to major US airlines to find out about the cleaning regimen in place for these screens, and not surprisingly while answers varied they weren’t very specific.

  • According to Southwest, “Each of our airport locations negotiate cleaning contracts that include items such as kiosks.” They weren’t able to offer anything more “exact” regarding kiosk cleaning.

  • United tells me that “Kiosks are cleaned – the screens and the outer box. Each airport is an individual contract with a local janitorial vendor.” They couldn’t provide information on company-wide standards for stations contracting this service.

  • American indicated that they “have contracts with janitorial services that clean them every day in [American Airlines] areas. In areas that are more common that is the responsibility of the airports.” In other words if you’re at American’s leased ticket counters you should be good but if you’re in other space it depends on the airport’s standards.

Delta though gave me the most detailed response about their cleaning regimen. According to a spokesperson,

I have confirmed that all airport surfaces are disinfected multiple times daily times to be done before peak volumes in check-in lobbies and connecting concourse areas. We share this information with airports and cleaning vendors at the local airport management level to ensure we’re taking this level of safety and security for our customers adequately.

We also have cleaning crews on stand by to deal with any reported concerns observed by employees or customers, i.e. heavy coughing seem onto surfaces, etc. There has also been good focus on this during the heavy flu season, so full vigilance in that regard.

We also periodically engage in performance audits of cleaning vendors in the due course of business which allows us to stay ahead of any underperformance.

My takeaway is that cleaning an airline’s dedicated spaces is the responsibility of the airline and handled at the airport level. American says cleaning of kiosks in their spaces happens every day. Delta says multiple times per day and they audit to make sure.

As for the others? Perhaps check-in kiosks join the pantheon of travel “what’s grosser than gross?” along with:

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. Even more reason to check into your flight on your home computer or on your phone.  If you have to touch a kiosk, consider having some hand sanitizer ready to go to kill those germs!

  2. Other disgusting spots in airports—elevator buttons and escalator handrails, and nobody ever cleans those. At least you can avoid the filthiest kiosks by skipping ones with obviously grimy screens. Whatever you touch, keep your hands away from your face and never ever handle your food with unwashed hands (not even those little ramekins of nuts). It isn’t being paranoid, just common freaking sense.

  3. I don’t understand why the airlines can’t place a Purell-type wall dispenser (or two) adjacent the kiosks. The janitorial service could be responsible for refilling the dispensers. At least the public would know if the janitorial service is doing their job by monitoring the antibacterial liquid in the dispensers. Plus, after using the kiosks (and disinfecting their hands) the pax would reduce spread of bacteria elsewhere in the airport.

  4. I use my knuckle on my little finger to push / touch anything on the screen.
    I use my elbow to push elevator buttons.
    I use the paper towel to turn the faucet knob off and use the same paper towel to pull the door handle.
    I see people go poop, come out and never wash hands and they pull the door handle, what do you think is on that door handle? And this is in the Admiral’s Club. And I saw it last week in the FlagShip Lounge. Happens everywhere, doesn’t matter what income level.

    Just watch what people do.

    Oh, and never check bags. Everyone always complains about bags lost, delayed, waiting for bags to show up, etc. Just do not check bags.

  5. Really, like this is a big deal… Talk about a first world problem. Spend a little time living in a tent in a combat zone and you will get over any germ-a-phobia. “That which does not kill us makes you stronger.”

  6. Don’t make too big a deal of this. Just swab someone’s hand (not after they washed them), and see how high a count you get. Hands are constantly touching and grabbing things, which after all it’s what they’re for, and every surface on the planet is chock-full of bacteria. That gets on the hands, which gets on things touched by hands. And you can’t clean kiosks (or for that matter ATMs, slot machines, or armrests on airline seats, to name a few) very often

    Yet people shake hands socially.

    Relax, and carry a little bottle of alcohol gel with you.

  7. I wonder if the tablets United assaults passengers with at EWR – including one at every single restaurant seat – are ever cleaned

  8. Personally, I’m more concerned with cold and flu viruses than bacteria, since they’re much easier to catch and so common. I do what @Carlos says, it’s just basic precautions.

  9. Just landed. Sat is first row of first class. Guy behind me coughed every 30 to 90 seconds the entire 3 hour flight. Never covered his face when he coughed. Where do you think his germs went ? Into the air and into every persons drink and into their eyes and nose and ears.

    I covered my nose with the blanket and the first class flight attendant gave me many nasty looks throughout the flight. Maybe I should add I have brown skin and look foreign. I don’t deserve nasty looks just because I cover my nose if the guy behind me is coughing so much.

    Why is the guy coughing not a danger to the flight? Why not remove him? Airlines remove people for stupid reasons. Here is a valid reason. He is spreading his germs and not wearing a mask and obviously not on any medication or cough suppressant.

    I know readers will argue against me just for the sake of arguing.

    Oh and she made me unrecline my seat and 24,000 feet in the air while we were still over 20 min from landing. Unrecline is done at 10,000 feet and 10-13 min before landing. She didn’t tell anyone else to put their seat backs in their upright position.

    Oh and no predeparture beverage either in a 6AM Monday morning flight.

    I asked for a refill on my coffee and she asked how do you like it? She didn’t even remember how she served me the first cup. Or maybe she did and just wanted to be difficult to me.

  10. I make it a point after using a kiosk to clean my hands by wiping them all over a toilet seat.

    Good for Delta for actually caring. Those on other airlines can celebrate their use of FF miles for a redemption while getting the flu…sounds awesome!

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