Bed Bugs Have Found a New Home: Airplanes. Here's How to Spot Them
Few people expect intercontinental air travel to be terribly comfortable, but for the most part, we do expect it to be clean. So it's particularly horrifying to hear that in addition to worrying about things like making it through security, fighting fellow passengers for overhead bin space, and praying you aren't sitting in front of someone who will kick the back of your seat for the whole flight, you also have to worry about insect infestation when you fly. According to Thrillist and Fox5NY, Air India has had multiple reports of bed bugs in its business-class seats. It's not the first airline to receive bed bug complaints, either, so if you travel frequently, you should probably learn how to spot these pests.
On July 17 and July 19, two separate Air India passengers tweeted about seeing—and being bitten by—bed bugs on flights from the New York City area to India. And it wasn't in economy—one of the passengers said he paid $10,000 for business-class tickets for his wife and three children. After 17 hours in the air with bed bugs as seat mates, the passengers disembarked bloody and covered in bites. The Times of India reported that the airline had received reports of bed bugs on another flight on a different aircraft, but "appears to have ignored them."
But you can't just swear off Air India and assume you'll be safe from bugs on your next flight with another carrier. In 2017, a passenger flying from Canada to the UK on British Airways said that she and her daughter were bitten during their flight, too. In 2010 and 2011, British Airways and United Airlines both had bed bug infestations that left passengers riddled with bite marks. Travelers can easily carry bed bugs from their hotel onto a plane and then into their homes, and short of delaying every flight while the crew inspects and treats every seat, there's not much airlines can do to stop it.
The best you can do is be vigilant, and if you do see bed bugs (first, make sure you know what one looks like) tell a crew member immediately. To minimize your own exposure, cover yourself up—bed bugs can't bite through your clothes—and bring your own pillow and blanket. To really ensure you and your clothes stay bug-free, bring your own protective seat cover to put over your plane seat. You’ll look pretty wacky to your fellow passengers, but you'll have an extra layer of protection.
And before you attack your airline for exposing you to an infestation, consider your own role. Since bed bug bites might not become apparent until a day or two after you're bitten, it's possible that you might not notice them if you've only been at your hotel a short time. If bugs are biting you in your airplane seat, it's very possible that you're actually the one who brought them on the plane in the first place. That's why one expert, Joe Ballenger of Ask an Entomologist, told Lifehacker that he recommends alerting both your airline and all the hotels you stayed in if you find bed bugs after your trip.