TSA Security Screening Bins Have More Germs Than the Monkey in Outbreak

The TSA hasn’t ever caught a terrorist, and there’s no meaningful deterrent value either when they fail to catch over 90% of banned items being taken through checkpoints in government tests.

Longer waits to travel by air makes driving more attractive — even though it isn’t as safe. So we can attribute quite a bit of harm here. And billions of dollars each year being spent on security theater isn’t going to things that actually might keep us safe, or help peoples lives in other ways, so there’s a real cost.

It turns out there’s a health cost too, although this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The TSA makes most travelers take off their shoes, many go barefoot on germ-laden floors. And most of us assumed, I think, that they weren’t doing much to wash or sanitize bins.

Your fellow sick passengers touch the bins, they even put their dirty tissue sand handkerchiefs in them before going through the nude-o-scope. TSA employees get gloves to wear, passengers don’t.

And the bins used at security ckeckpoints the world over are likely making people sick because “half of plastic airport security bins may carry viruses that cause respiratory infections.”

The lead authors of the article, who hailed from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Nottingham, concluded that the screening trays “appear commonly contaminated” and that they are one of the surfaces at an airport where passengers are most likely to pick up harmful viruses.

“We found the highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items,” the scientists wrote in their journal article. “These boxes typically cycle with high frequency to subsequent passengers, and are typically seized with a wide palm surface area and strong grip.”

In fact, that means airports “can serve as a potential risk zone for an ’emerging pandemic threat’ — a prospect that has already become a major concern in the aftermath of the 2002 SARS outbreak and the 2014 Ebola epidemic.”

In other words they are a terrorist’s dream — and possibly a bigger threat than what airport security may be guarding against. And by the way TSA now instructs passengers to put food and snack items in these contaminated bins.

Your fellow passengers make you sick. Airline check-in kiosks can make you sick. And planes are cleaned less often than you think. We don’t need the government requiring us to come into contact with so many germs, too.

Copyright: TEA / 123RF Stock Photo

There’s self-cleaning bin technology. Since we’re unlikely to do anything to reform the TSA any time soon, the least they could do is use it.

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. There are so many more important things to worry about than bins with viruses or bacteria on them. After spending 20 years in military public health I can tell you that in a 1st world country the vectors that are really going to make you sick are food and feces. So, wash your hands after defecating, be careful of public bathroom common surfaces, and eat in clean/inspected restaurants. In 2nd/3rd world countries its water – standing, flowing, or faucet.

  2. Scary but not all that surprising. In Australia, all airport security screening for explosives ( random selection after general security) is now done in small groups rather than individually as it had been until a month ago.
    This means that a small group of passengers is selected and the agent sticks one wand with the test kit over the clothes and shoes, and into the bags of all the 5-7 in the group.
    I hate this arrangement: I don’t like being at the end of the line, being touched with this thing that has been rubbed across the shoes of 5 or 6 others. I don’t know where those shoes have been, but have a pretty good idea of the DNA material on them ( at least some of the men) and it’s not nice. Ladies would be even less thrilled at the thought.
    I guess this is to save money/time ( and in the event that the test comes back positive for explosives…ie, a first in about 500 million…further tests would identify the suspect.
    Maybe I’m too fussy but really…I don’t like this arrangement. Touching those plastic containers is bad enough. Also, The security guys were gloves but never change them as they handle passenger’s items.

  3. Gary’s germ phobia is well known to regular readers of his blog, so this article is probably a tad alarmist. Preparation I take before submitting myself to the TSA indignity is emptying all contents of my pockets into my carry-on, which is rarely even opened, and thoroughly washing my hands on reaching the lounge, before heading for the F & B selection. I have also been known to wipe the tray table, touch screen and hand-held controls with antiseptic wipes, much to the apparent amusement of fellow passengers.

  4. Ive found that the quickest way through security is to dump everything into my carry on bag. Do that, and theres less chance of you getting any cooties.
    And yes, flying is technically a germfest to begin with.

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