Bed Bugs on aircraft – more common than you think

Flying is not for the faint hearted. You arrive hours before your flight to endure the rigours of enhanced security checks, grappling with hand luggage restrictions on liquids and electronic equipment. Now, the last thing you need, as you cruise at 35,000 feet, is to be bitten by bed bugs. But, it happens and with increasing frequency.

Bed bugs love to live close to their next human meal. They are great at hitching a lift in our luggage and pretty accustomed to international travel so, it’s hardly surprising that they are frequently found in aircraft seating. Not that any airline would like to admit it, but it happens! What can be done to control them?

This was the subject that Adam Juson from Surrey-based Merlin Environmental addressed in his presentation at the 8th International Conference on Urban Pests (ICUP), held in Zurich from 21-23 July.

Adam explained how bed bug infestations on aircraft are a growing concern and how they can have a substantial financial impact on commercial airlines. In the worst case scenario infestations have led to aircraft being grounded – and that costs mega bucks! And, he predicted, that things will get worse, before they get better, largely because most airlines currently have a reactive approach to the problem.

bed bugs on an aircraft seat

Research by Merlin Environmental shows that airlines with a proactive approach to bed bug management, fare much better. They suffer 80% fewer seats infested and almost 70% fewer insects in the most heavily infested seats.

The research was conducted over three years and covered more than 100 inspections of infested aircraft. A wide range of carriers, aircraft models and seat configurations were covered. Cases ranged from single insects, in single seats, to infestation of many thousands of insects, spread through multiple cabins. Detection and eradication methods were assessed. Having found a problem proactively, or by waiting for a customer complaint, which treatment method offers the quickest and best result?

Story from the Mail Online: Jumbo Jet being grounded following passenger with bites.

To assess the efficacy of the available methods, a combination of scent detection dogs and human inspection was used to document the infestation levels prior to, and then 28 days after, treatment. The methods assessed were methyl bromide fumigation by a specialist aircraft company, chemical applications of the two products approved for use in aircraft, Ficam W and K-Othrine and two forms of heat treatment – a closed system and a forced air system.

luggage at an airport

The results show that methyl bromide fumigation was the only treatment which achieved 100% control.

Both chemical treatments produced disappointing results. This is probably because the complex nature of aircraft seating and restrictions on dismantling them prevented the technician properly applying the pesticide. The elevated tolerance profile of field strain bed bugs to these chemicals would not have helped.

In addition, the aggressive nature of the cabin environment degrades both pesticides exceptionally quickly, resulting in negligible residual value to chemical treatments. Even with further approval of pesticides for cabin use, it is unlikely that a pesticide-based approach will achieve the levels of control needed.

Heat treatment being an environmental manipulation technique has many supporters in the aviation industry. The levels of control achieved were the closest to methyl bromide fumigation, although still not 100% effective. If carried out correctly heat treatment has no deleterious effects on the aircraft, however close attention needs to be paid to temperature monitoring. In one closed system, treatment overheating of the environment resulted in warping of plastic components in seating products and cabin side walls. Forced air treatment in particular shows great potential.

In conclusion, Adam said: “Early detection is vital particularly in view of the reduced efficacy of eradication systems. There is also plenty of scope for improved seating designs to reduce rates of establishment and spread. Research into passenger boarding behaviour with a view to reducing inoculation rates would also be helpful.

“With big differences in the approach between different airlines, some central resource which allows the aviation industry to share best practice would also be beneficial.”

Best Pest Control

A guide to hotel bedrooms and Bed Bugs

Bed Bugs are one of natures hitch-hikers. They can be very well-travelled and always at someone else’s expense. Staying in a hotel can be a great way to unwind, but it can also be the start of months of problems that last long after the hotel bill has been paid.

The most common way for bed bugs to be brought back to your home is through travelling and staying in hotels. If you keep in mind the thought that the room you are staying in for a night or two (and importantly, the bed),  will have had quite literally, hundreds of people sleeping in it before you. And those previous hotel guests might have also stayed in numerous hotels all over the world. That is how Bed Bugs spread so rapidly and easily. In other words, staying in a hotel for just one night might be the start of something that will take some time to resolve.

So, what can you do to prevent bringing Bed Bugs home? A quick 5 minute hotel room check list might you saves months of work, lots of stress and considerable expense. And don’t assume that because it’s a 5 star hotel it’s going to be free of bed bugs. We get calls from hotels at both end of the star rating. Studies show that most bed bugs are found within 15 feet of a bed, but obviously some may be further away. So the bed area requires close scrutiny.

  • Check behind your headboards
  • Check the mattress for bed bug signs (small dark brown stains or spotting on bedding)
  • Remove the bedding and check the mattress itself
  • Check upholstered chairs, drawers, carpets, closets
  • Check all the nooks and crannies of your hotel room
  • Don’t leave your suitcase on the bed, floor, or chairs in hotels

bed bugs on a mattress

And if you do find Bed Bugs…..

We English don’t like to kick up a fuss, but if you do find signs of bed bug, then tell the hotel you want another room and preferably, on a different floor altogether because quite often, it is a whole level that is infected, not just one room. Most hotels will move you without question.

Bedbugs don’t transmit disease, but they can  carry germs picked up from other humans.

Post hotel plan.

When you return home following a holiday that involved staying in a hotel, you need to follow a few simple tips. Firstly, don’t empty you suitcase in your bedroom. If possible, open as close as you can to the washing machine. Bedbugs can’t live in temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit, so a good hot wash will kill any that you might have brought back. Dry cleaning is also an excellent way to kill bed bugs. Then vacuum your suitcase before putting it away. And finally, place the suitcase in a sealed plastic bag / bin liner. This last safety measure is just in case you missed a bed bug and if so, it will be trapped on the inside.

  • Don’t empty you suitcase in your bedroom
  • Wash every item of clothing (even if you haven’t worn it)
  • Vacuum your suitcase before putting it away

A guide to avoid bringing bed bugs home from holiday

Bed bugs are nasty hitchhikers that have tortured many a traveller returning home. Make sure you don’t bring any of these bugs home by keeping in mind the S.L.E.E.P. acronym, which reminds us how to look for bed bugs and take care of our luggage.

Just one female bed bug could lay eggs and quickly cause an infestation. Although you can check a Bed Bug Registry to try to avoid hotels with reported bed bug problems or eliminate bed bugs with a DIY hot box, for any hotel stay it’s wise to check for signs of bed bugs (who hide even in the cleanest homes and finest hotels).


Survey surfaces for signs of an infestation, such as tiny rust-colored spots on bed sheets, mattress tags and seams, and bed skirts.
Lift and look for all bed bug hiding spots, including underneath the mattress, bed frame, headboard, and furniture. Typically, they come out at night to feed, but during the day, they are most likely found within a 5-foot radius of the bed.
Elevate your luggage on a luggage rack away from the bed and wall, since bed bugs can often hide behind head boards, artwork, picture frames and electrical outlet panels.
Examine your luggage carefully while repacking and when you return home. Always keep luggage off the bed and store it in a closet or other area, far away from your bedroom.
Place all your clothing from your luggage immediately in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting upon returning home from travel.

By Melanie Pinola