If you thought the most revolting experience you have had during a flight is sitting next to the lavatory in economy class on an eight-hour flight, then wait till you see a cockroach perched on the food trolley as meals are being served.
It doesn’t matter how many times the cabin crew asks whether you want beef or chicken — once you have seen a roach on board — more so near food, it is hard to have an appetite for anything served thereafter.
The most unsettling thing about a cockroach is not its ability to multiply and take over a habitat, nor is it the ability to hold its breath for up to 40 minutes under water. But rather, that the germ spreading pest can stay alive for over a week without its head.
Cockroaches are also known to survive freezing temperatures and — some even claim — a nuclear holocaust. So, imagine how comfortable this crawler feels on a flight 36,000 feet up, with food and oxygen.
In the past two months there have been embarrassing incidents of pests on board flights.
First, there was the case of two international flights operating in southern China which had more than 100 cockroaches on board. Pest controllers had to be called in before the flights could be dispatched.
Second, a Canadian family reported their agony at having to endure a transAtlantic flight in bedbug-infested seats. They posted on Twitter; “Each bedbug bites three times then goes back into hiding.”
The flight was full and there was no option for the affected passengers to change seats. The airline later issued an apology.
Third, was a US-bound Air India flight that suffered a nine-hour delay because a rat was spotted in the cabin as the aircraft was taxiing for take-off.
Hygiene concerns aside, the existence of rodents on an aircraft is a major safety concern seeing as your typical plane has miles of wires and cabling all round it.
Imagine an undetected colony of mice quietly chewing and gnawing at cables and aircraft components.
A while back, there were reports of scorpions, bees and even reptiles roaming freely on board. The movie Snakes on Board comes to mind.
While there are World Health Organisation-defined measures and procedures for aircraft and airport hygiene standards, it is impossible to completely do away with vermin infestation in the travel sector.
Airlines that comply with international regulations and have internal operating procedures ensure that they fumigate and disinfect aircraft as per a given schedule; however, there is a possibility that most are not compliant.
But even as airline passengers are quick to point fingers at airlines and their declining hygiene standards, they are one of the major transmitting agents of these creepy crawlies.
It won’t matter how much airlines, airports and hotels fumigate and do pest control if travellers do not do the same in their homes.
Passenger baggage is a chief contributor to onboard pest invasion as people travel from one destination to another unknowingly carrying all manner of pests.
Fumigating and disinfecting your suitcase ahead of any travel is key, since most suitcases and bags are kept in dark closets and storage rooms.
The cabin baggage and the laptop bags are no exception either. Most will not admit it but an occasional roach or two could have crawled out of your computer bag while you are busy sleeping or eating during a flight.
The aircraft blanket and pillows make for safe nesting grounds for bedbugs. Even if the blanket comes sealed there are no guarantees.
Loosely packed foodstuff in baggage is a major attraction for insects too — in fact cockroaches are known to be attracted to and love sugar and alcohol.
If you must carry food stuff while travelling, ensure it is well sealed.
A top source for roaches and bedbugs is usually hotel room despite all the seemingly clean ambiance they present.
It is advisable to keep suitcases off the floor and zipped closed always.
After travel involving an extended stay, fumigate your bags and suitcases and do a mini-quarantine before storing them away.
Even the boot of the airport taxi is suspect.
Here is to a vermin-free flight and stay woke.
Michael Otieno an aviation consultant based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; e-mail: [email protected]