The Nauseating Place In The Airport Too Many People Put Their Travel Pillows

Packing for a red-eye flight or other long-haul journey requires some careful planning. A book and your everyday earphones just won't cut it. To get some shut-eye, you may need noise-canceling headphones, a relaxing playlist, your coziest clothes, and — most critically — a good travel pillow.

However, you might not snooze so soundly if you knew how dirty that pillow really was. Elizabeth Simpson, a Baltimore-based flight attendant, spoke with Stuff about maintaining healthy skin while traveling and revealed a common pillow mistake many fliers make. According to Simpson, it's a bad idea to throw your go-to pillow directly on the conveyor belt or inside the bins when going through airport security.

The flight attendant pointed out that shoes and luggage wheels dirty up the same surfaces you might be placing your pillow on, and it seems she's on to something. A 2018 study published in BMC Infectious Diseases collected swab samples from a variety of airport surfaces and concluded that plastic security screening trays were contaminated with more germs than other high-touch spots — including airport toilets.

The airline pillows aren't much better

If dragging your pillow through airport security exposes it to harmful viruses and other germs, you might assume you'd be better off using the free pillow provided on the plane. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, according to some insiders. A Reddit user who goes by the handle u/melhow44 shared that, during their time working at Southwest Airlines, they only saw clean blankets and pillows on the first flights of the day. Otherwise, the accessories were simply folded up and reused again between journeys.

Flight Attendant Jamila Hardwick echoed this in an interview with Inside Edition. "Bring your own [blankets and pillows]," she urged. "These get washed, but we are not so sure how great they are washed. Same for the pillow. They will take the lining off the pillow and give you a new one, but you still have the pillow in there that's dirty." Sara Keagle, a flight attendant and the founder of aviation blog TheFlyingPinto, also told Express that pillows can be reused for days unless they become visibly dirty.

Keep in mind that cleaning practices can vary by airline, and some carriers regularly freshen up their pillows or avoid providing them at all to maintain hygiene standards. To be safe, it's a good idea to pack your own pillow for your flight.

How to keep your travel pillow clean

There's a good chance that you'll get flagged by TSA if you refuse to put your travel pillow and other belongings in the conveyor belt bins, no matter how dirty those bins may be. When at the airport, go ahead and put your travel pillow in the plastic trays as instructed, but try to keep a barrier between the fabric and the surface of the bin. Elizabeth Simpson told Stuff that it's best to keep the pillow tucked inside your jacket or coat to avoid contamination. Alternatively, you can keep it protected in a clean plastic bag until you're ready for your mid-flight nap.

Since viruses can be easily transmitted through the facial mucous membranes (including your eyes, nose, and mouth), you might want to consider a pillow that doesn't come in contact with these regions. For instance, try swapping your travel neck pillow for a neck brace. Sure, it can look strange, but a brace offers much-needed neck support without rubbing your face.

Regardless of what type of pillow you pack, make sure to clean it regularly between uses. Some pillows come with removable covers you can throw in the washing machine, while others must be hand-washed to keep dirt and germs at bay.