The largest flight attendant union in the world, which represents crew members at United Airlines, has told crew members to pack latex gloves and a flashlight with them so that they can go on the hunt for bedbugs during layovers.
Bedbugs have made headlines in recent weeks after a major infestation alert was reported in Paris, but the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which also represents crew members at Alaska Airlines, Frontier and several other carriers, says flight attendants should be on the lookout wherever they are in the world.
Latex gloves and a flashlight could become standard items of kit for flight attendants when they arrive at a hotel so that they can start inspecting the bed mattress for telltale signs of bedbugs like tarlike splotches and skin fragments, according to advice posted by the union.
The corners of a hotel mattress, as well as the corner guards, piping, seams and labels, are some of the easiest places to detect the presence of bedbugs, along with the headboard, although overly eager aircrew have been advised not to try removing the headboard for fear they might end up causing damage to their hotel room.
Despite the overall low risk, the worldwide alert says flight attendants should be taking precautions now to “prevent the nightmare” of causing a bedbug infestation in their own home from happening.
Flight attendants have been told to ditch fabric luggage in favor of hardshell cases with smooth surfaces, which make it harder for bedbugs to hitch a ride. Luggage should be kept off the floor and away from beds and sofas, ideally on a luggage rack or glass table.
Reassuringly, washing clothing in hot water is normally enough to kill bedbugs and any eggs but delicate items should be ‘isolated’ in a ziplock bag – the same rules apply for laptop computers and iPads.
Those ziplock bags will also come in handy should a flight attendant find bedbugs so that they can bag up the evidence and show them to hotel staff.
In the event that bedbugs are found, flight attendants have been advised that its best to move hotels, but if that’s not possible, they should ask for a new room as far away as possible. Luggage and belongings should be removed from the infected room as fast as possible.
Some flight attendants and frequent travelers are already taking additional precautions to protect themselves from bed bugs, and this includes quarantining their luggage on their return home.
The flight attendant union suggests unpacking bags outside the home or in a garage and immediately washing clothing. There are even portable heating units available online that can ‘bake luggage at sustained temperatures’ to kill off any bedbugs, although the $300 price tag makes that option unachievable for some.
Unfortunately, detecting bedbugs in the earlier stages of a home invasion can be really tricky, which can then make eradicating the pests an expensive, lengthy and very stressful experience.
Of course, bedbug infestations have been an occupation hazard for flight attendants for many years… In fact, there are even reports of bedbugs being found in the seats and crew bunks of many airlines, although thankfully, these kinds of incidents still remain rare.
What is certain, however, is that while problems facing Paris today could easily spread, simple precautions could stop you bringing bedbugs home with you.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.