(Editor’s Note: Although you might not believe this is happening, it is. Because it’s still legal. If you are going to be traveling to a place where they require spraying, make sure you educate yourself first and take the proper precautions.)
Disinsection (the use of insecticide on international flights and in other closed spaces for insect and disease control. Confusion with disinfection, the elimination of microbes on surfaces)occurs every day in countries all around the world, including on U.S. airlines- though usually the spraying is done when passengers are NOT onboard.
While it can be a little worrisome to suddenly be sprayed with pesticides, especially while locked in a pressurized tube, we know that insects can easily transmit deadly diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and now Zika- at least that’s why officials say they are spraying.
Therefore, in an effort to minimize that from happening, the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have established two primary methods: 1) spraying aerosol insecticides in the cabin while passengers are onboard, and 2) treating the airplane’s interior surfaces with a residual insecticide when passengers are not onboard (some airlines employ a third method, often used in Panama and American Samoa, spraying the cabin when passengers aren’t on board).
If you’re going to be flying internationally and you want to know more about airline policies on pesticides, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) provides a detailed overview of what to expect here. Currently, the following countries require aerosol spraying of inbound flights while passengers are on board: 1
• Ecuador (Galapagos and Interislands only)
• Trinidad and Tobago
The following countries spray when passengers are not onboard for all in-bound flights:
• Cook Islands
• New Zealand
And lastly, there are other countries that require disinsection on selected flights from certain locations. You should learn more if you’re flying into these countries from potentially infected areas:
• Czech Republic
• South Africa
• United Kingdom
Still upset? The WHO doesn’t care. In 1995, they issued a report stating that aircraft disinsection performed properly should be encouraged: “Although some individuals may experience transient discomfort following aircraft disinsection by aerosol application, there is no objection to any of the recommended methods of aircraft disinsection from a toxicological perspective.”
Maybe ask an asthma sufferer how they feel about that. They MAY disagree.
But know that your issues with spraying aren’t yours alone; for years environmentalists, medical professionals, academics and media outlets have questioned using pesticides inside sealed aircraft cabins.
“In 2012, two academics released “Quantifying Exposure to Pesticides on Commercial Aircraft,” a detailed report funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). After examining aircraft cabins and flight crews, the report concluded: “This study documents that flight attendants on commercial aircrafts disinsected with pyrethroid insecticides are exposed to pesticides at levels that result in elevated body burden and internal accumulation comparable to pesticide applicators, exceeding levels in the general U.S. population. It is expected that flying public would be similarly exposed to pesticides on those flights.”2
And the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA(AFA), which represents almost 60,000 cabin crew at 19 airlines, agrees as well. In fact, due to the AFA’s concern about disinsection, they worked to get the FAA Reauthorization Bill to include a requirement which would make airlines let passengers know that they’ll be sprayed with pesticides when they buy a ticket to certain countries. While the legislation was passed the Department of Transportation STILL hasn’t made the legislation a regulation.
“AFA also recommends alternatives to spraying, and supports the use of non-chemical means of disinsection, such as “air blowers at the passenger boarding door and specialized net curtains over the cabin service doors.” The spokeswoman says, “These options were initiated by AFA in 2003 and promoted by the DOT and [U.S. Department of Agriculture], but the momentum has slowed in recent years,” due to a lack of funding. Ultimately, AFA suggests alternatives to spraying will not come from the airlines, but must be regulated by the DOT.”3
Those who are spraying or supporting the act believe that not addressing airborne diseases is far worse than any harmful side effects. So the bottom line is EDUCATE YOURSELF- contact your carrier if you have unanswered questions. Far too many airline passengers are unaware of spraying until they are faced with it.