How Often Do Planes Get Cleaned Between Flights? (Warning: Maybe Not As Often As You Think)

When getting ready for a big trip, the last thing we want to think about is the cleanliness (or lack thereof!) factor of the airplane we're about to board. We want to imagine that it's sparklingly clean and that every square inch of the aircraft's interior has been thoroughly sanitized. The wish is reasonable — several hours of flying in a crowded, enclosed cabin means the odds of sharing germs become much greater.

In an eye-opening study, Kiril Vaglenov, who studies materials science, told NBC News that bacteria could live for up to a week on airplane surfaces. One of the dirtiest parts on an airplane, his study found, was the seat back pocket, of all things. However, the takeaway from his research wasn't to be worried about flying. It was simply to be mindful, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching too many surfaces while flying.

While airlines notably amped up cleaning procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, there have still been horror stories from travelers about the cleanliness of airplanes. In July 2023, a passenger flying Air France from Toronto to Paris noticed an unpleasant smell and discovered significant blood and fecal matter on the floor around him. He was notified that a passenger had a hemorrhage on the flight the day before. However, the area had not been properly cleaned up at all. It begs the question: how often do planes get cleaned?

Quick turnaround cleanings

Regarding airplane cleanliness, a lot depends on how quick of a turnaround there is between flights. Other factors play in as well. Is the flight domestic, or is it international? Domestic flights tend to have much quicker turnarounds and therefore don't have the opportunity for frequent deep cleans. What typically happens after a plane lands is that it gets what's called a "turn clean." This means a cleaning crew quickly vacuums the plane, cleans the bathrooms, and picks up trash. Surfaces might get a quick wipe down, but the cleaning job is by no means thorough. There's a certain elitism to the cleaning process, too. Business and First Class seating areas get more attention during these quick cleans than economy class.

If a plane isn't flying overnight, it gets a more thorough wipe down, called a Remain Overnight clean. This means that the interior gets much more attention. The New York Times reported that Delta removed every seat on the plane during the pandemic to vacuum and even shampooed the carpets during an overnight clean. However, every airline has different cleaning requirements, and some have noticed that fastidiousness about cleaning has loosened since the coronavirus pandemic. "Each airline has specific cleaning procedures and specifications for each cleaning type with the extent of cleaning dependent on the amount of time available," Adam Taylor, executive vice president of airline cleaning company Air Serv, told BBC. So there's no hard and fast rule for all airlines.

The deep clean

Every airline has a different time frame for when a plane gets a deep clean. As the BBC reports, Singapore Airlines deep cleans its planes once a month, while Lufthansa gives its planes a deep cleaning after 500 hours of flying time. Interestingly, there aren't global standards for airplane cleanliness. Each airline is left to decide how frequently its aircraft get thoroughly cleansed. Moreover, the BBC reported that airplane cleaning procedures had not evolved significantly in the last 20 years.

Retired American Airlines flight attendant Stephanie Biron told CNN she never knew what to expect after cleaning because there was no consistency. "Sometimes you come on and you have to go out and tell the agent, 'look, the plane looks terrible. We need somebody to come on and redo it.' It just varies all the time," Biron said. "Sometimes you come on in the morning and they deep cleaned the whole thing, or at least they told you they have."

Cleaning crews generally consist of 5 to 12 people, each targeting a different area of the plane. Restrooms are always a major focus, no matter if it's a quick turnaround clean or a deep clean. But during the ideal deep clean, seat cushions are removed to scour under and around them while all surfaces are sanitized.