Insects On Planes

From CNN, I learn that a couple was so “grossed out” by cockroaches “free to move about the cabin”, that they are suing an airline for damages. The plaintiffs claim that flight attendants did nothing about the cockroaches and

negligence and recklessness, infliction of emotional distress, nuisance, false imprisonment and unfair and deceptive trade practices, and is suing for more than $100,000 plus the price of their tickets.

Where is the Chancla? This raises a question, Is the aircraft suffering from insects that came aboard recently in the luggage of a passenger? Or is the aircraft suffering an ongoing infestation? Ongoing cockroach infestations are typically a sign of poor sanitation. Cockroaches must have access to food and water to survive and reproduce. An ongoing infestation would suggest a leak or other access to water and food that was not being removed from the airplane. Pesticides could eliminate some of the cockroaches but better sanitation (remove access to water and food) would be recommended. If the stowaways are transients (most likely), a dose of pesticide should eliminate them.

Airlines are caught in the crossfire between the demand for insect free aircraft and pesticide free aircraft. Some countries, in an effort to exclude unwanted insects and the diseases they vector, require disinsection, the application of insecticides to kill insects that may be on board. Often, disinsection is targeted at mosquitoes and malaria, dengue and other mosquito vectored diseases. However, the targets can include agricultural pests. Depending on the country, the airline may be required to introduce pesticide into the cabin while passengers are on board. Other countries allow the airlines to apply a residual pesticide to the airplane when passengers are not on board, either as a liquid or in some cases an aerosol.

The pesticides used in aircraft disinsection are typically pyrethroids with low human toxicity. For the most part, the practice is not documented to cause harm. It is important that maintenance personnel carefully follow the use directions on the pesticide label. Misuse or use of the wrong agent could cause problems.

Airplanes recirculate their air during flights and people will breathe whatever is in the air. However, passengers should probably be more concerned about the risk of infectious disease spread during epidemics than low level pesticide exposure. The use of “air curtains” or forcing air out of the aircraft open doors is one alternative method of keeping insects from flying onto airplanes. Such techniques can in some cases substitute for insecticides. However, those methods are not effective when passengers smuggle insect infested contraband aboard airplanes.

Photo of the Lawsuit-Inducing Cockroach (maybe an Oriental Cockroach?)

No matter what the airlines do, some people are certain to object. Better methods of insect exclusion from airplanes or safer insect control products can make finding a less objectionable solution to “Insects On Airplanes” easier.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Health, News, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Insects On Planes

  1. The Ozarkian says:

    Sorry the couple was distressed; HOWEVER, a HUNDRED THOUSAND BUCKS??? These people should be jailed for awhile and made to compensate the airline for wasting everybody’s time. Surely our courts have better things to do with their time. That being said, now that the airline is aware of the problem, they should probably get rid of the roaches.

  2. Hemmerling says:

    Most of the airlines are using the spray disinsection on the plane or when the passenger are on the plane.

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