Bugs Fly on Planes Too
Anything is possible, Rayman says, but considering that both bacteria and viruses need hosts to survive, even if the blankets and pillows were not cleaned, they probably would not be capable of transmitting an infectious disease, Rayman tells WebMD.
Moreover, Royal Airline Laundry "categorically denies the baseless allegations" from UNITE. They write in a statement that they provide the "highest level of hygienically cleaned linen and blankets." They add that their laundry is constantly monitored by state-of-the-art equipment and the allegations are UNITE's ploy to force its union into parts of the company that are currently non-union
Still, UNITE has found a powerful ally. Joining UNITE at the press conference was the Association of Flight Attendants, or AFA.
"What we are hoping is that the airlines do the right thing," says AFA President Patricia Friend. "We are hoping that pressure from customers will cause them to do what they need to do," she tells WebMD.
The AFA gives UNITE a powerful voice. They have been running a successful media campaign since 1984 asking for high-grade air filters on all commercial jets.
That campaign has received media attention thanks to an engineering group that has been studying cabin air quality, in part, as result of the AFA members' complaints. The filters already are used voluntarily on most commercial jets. But the recommendation by the cabin air committee of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers has given it a boost.
The organization's members design and maintain airline heating and air systems. The committee includes plane makers, pilots, flight attendants, and airline officials, whose past recommendations have led to binding rules.
Yet, once again, researchers say that while high-grade filters are a nice touch, odds are that the cabin air itself is not responsible for getting people sick.
"The risk of contracting an infectious disease from the aircraft itself is minimal," says Jolanda Janczewski, PhD, MPH, president of Consolidated Safety Service, an independent consulting firm. Janczewski's firm has now conducted two studies into the issue.
"Those studies found that the levels of circulating bacteria and fungus were much lower than other places with circulated air, such as an office building," she tells WebMD. Janczewski adds that the flight attendants claims are probably not unfounded -- but most likely do not represent a distinct risk to passengers.