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Pillows and blankets on economy class of commercial airlines, waiting to be cleaned after the aircraft arrived to the destination
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Do Airplane Blankets Really Not Get Washed?

SmarterTravel

In this month’s edition of our travel advice column, Check Your Baggage, we find out just how clean airplane blankets are, which part of the plane is dirtiest, and more disgusting travel truths.

Has That Airplane Blanket Been Washed?

Q. “I’ve heard that airplane blankets don’t get washed between flights, but on every long-haul where I’ve been given a blanket, it’s been in a sealed bag. Is it really not clean?” CS

A. I reached out to American Airlines, whose spokesperson told me: “Every blanket on American Airlines has been washed and re-wrapped before being given to a customer.” So if you’re on an American Airlines flight, you can probably sleep easy under a clean blanket.

My personal rule used to be that if a blanket was in a sealed package, then it’s probably sanitary. But then I read this horrifying article that tested a blanket (that had been received wrapped in plastic) on a WestJet flight, and found yeast, mold, and high counts of bacteria. So now I bring my own travel blanket.

What’s the Dirtiest Part of the Plane?

Q. “On my last flight, I saw someone eat directly off of a tray table (without even a napkin under his sandwich! Which made me wonder… what’s the dirtiest part of the plane? Is it the tray table?”—ST

A. I once saw someone eating their yogurt with their fingers on a plane, so I feel you on the disgusting plane behavior front. It’s a wild, dirty world up in the skies. Canadian newsmagazine CBC Marketplace sent staff on 18 flights to take samples off of five plane surfaces: seatbelt, tray table, headrest, seat pocket, and bathroom handle. They found that “nearly half of the surfaces swabbed contained levels of bacteria or yeast and mold that could put a person at risk for infection.” The headrest was the worst offender, with both bacteria and E.coli lurking on it. So on your next flight, pack some sanitizing wipes and follow our guide on disinfecting your airplane seat. If your seatmate gives you weird looks, direct them to the CBC Marketplace study and ruin flights forever for them as well.

Away Alternative?

Q. “I was thinking about treating myself to an Away suitcase but the recent scandal has made me not want to give my money to that company. What’s another hard-sided carry-on you’d splurge on?” —DV

A. Thank you for not Slacking me this question at 3 a.m. and demanding an answer, DV. Away luggage is undeniably trendy, but there are other equally stylish options out there. One lesser-known brand that I like for a splurge is Paravel—their Aviator carry-on is really nice looking and has similarly smart features like an interior compression board, a built-in TSA-approved lock, and an interior lining made from recycled plastic water bottles. Plus, you’ll stand out in a sea of Away bags.

Resort Fees

Q.“I’ve been searching for a hotel in New York City but keep getting annoyed when I click through the seemingly low rate to find that it’s actually $50 a night more due to an exorbitant resort fee. Are there any websites that show the booking fee on the search page (not just when you click through)?”—KT

A. Unfortunately, there’s not a site that shows the resort fees on the search page (only ones that disclose it when you click through to the individual hotel). But if any developers are listening, please make that a common feature on hotel searches!

Expedia recently decided to display properties that add resort fees lower in search results when you sort your search from low to high, so you may find looking there or on their sister site Hotels.com less frustrating.  

Flight Cancelations

Q. “With winter weather and holiday travel approaching, I’m wondering if I should still go to the airport on time if my flight is delayed?” —SD

A. Unfortunately, yes. There’s always a chance that your flight could go back to being on time, or at least less delayed than initially planned, and if your flight ends up leaving on time and you’re not there, the airline will view you as a no-show. Sometimes the airline will be able to find a new flight crew or swap an aircraft and go back to being on time, so you don’t want to gamble.

I like to track my flight via FlightAware, which has a cool feature called “where is my plane now” so you can see where your aircraft is: If you’re waiting for a flight and your plane is still in the air from the last flight, you know it will likely be awhile. Just remember that aircraft swaps do happen, so don’t solely rely on the tracking for timing your trip to the airport.

Gifts for Travelers?

Q. “My niece loves to travel, but she seems to already have all the travel gear she needs. What should I get her for Christmas?” —DM

A. No one ever tries to return or exchange a cash gift. But make that cash gift festive by giving your niece a gift card she can use on her next adventure. Hotels.com and Airbnb are the only lodging booking sites that I’ve found that sell gift cards, so you could get her one of those with a cute card telling her to get out of town for a weekend on you. There are a few airlines that offer gift cards as well, including Southwest and American Airlines, if you really want to earn that favorite Aunt title.

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at editor@smartertravel.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.

Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

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