After bed bugs invaded the terminal used by Southwest Hawaii flights at Honolulu airport, we revisited the problems of bedbugs in travel.
Last week Hawaii DOT director Ed Sniffen reported that bugs had made a home at the E gates in Terminal 2. At first, DOT thought the problem could be easily rectified by removing those things they thought were attracting the bed bugs. Not so.
By the next day, DOT heard from Southwest Airlines, which provided more samples of the bugs. At that point, the DOT dispatched staff (we didn’t know that DOT was bug-killing qualified). They began to perform deep cleaning and carpet removal, after which an exterminator was summoned to apply pest controls at three E gates, 5, 6, and 7. Those gates were closed temporarily.
DOT says the bed bug removal process will now be ongoing for 3 weeks.
DOT later said that additional measures would continue for three weeks to prevent reoccurrence. We hope that estimate is more accurate than what they gave for fixing runway problems at Honolulu Airport, for which they are also responsible.
Flight operations have thus far not been delayed due to the cleaning.
Airlines, too, have had their issues with bedbugs.
Previously American Airlines had bedbug infestations on its widebody 777/787 fleets, which caused an uproar among passengers and crew. Crewmembers on rest break were bitten. The use of insecticides was also severe and caused further issues among the crew.
At one point, American’s flight attendants union said, “We received countless reports this week from concerned Flight Attendants who have experienced various health issues after using crew bunks on our widebody fleet.”
As for other airlines, none are immune, and bed bugs still become a problem intermittently. Last year a family was covered in bites from bed bugs following a British Airways flight. And bed bugs are known to be frequent flyers in first class as much as those in economy.
Bed bugs in Hawaii travel.
While the name bedbugs make it seem like those are the only places you’ll find these bloodsuckers, they are common in public transportation (think airliners), hotels, and elsewhere.
Bed bugs typically enter the aircraft through passengers’ carry-on luggage. From there, they move around and end up in the upholstery or carpeting of the plane. They can also enter others’ carry-ons and wind up in unsuspecting passengers’ homes, hotels, or vacation rentals (such as in the graphic video below).
Unlike most of us on flights to Hawaii, bedbugs always have free meals – and that’s us!
How to avoid bed bugs in your bags:
- Don’t bring luggage directly into your home. Ever. It’s been suggested that you initially leave your bags in the garage or a sealed plastic bag or bin.
- Heat the luggage and its contents from your Hawaii vacation. For example, put the bags in a black trash bag in the sun. Or purchase luggage with a heater (yes, they are available!). Or buy a luggage heater. Bedbugs cannot live in high heat, so if you heat your bags and the contents, you’ll eliminate bed bugs by one method or another.
- Launder your clothes immediately after a trip using the hot cycles.
- Alternatively, freeze the contents of your bags, which will also kill the bed bugs. Some have suggested that it may take several days, and we can’t confirm that.
- When applicable, use hot soapy water and a scrub brush to remove bed bug eggs and bugs themselves from crevices.
- Use a flashlight to look for their presence.
- Look for live, moving bed bugs. These are tan, red, or brown, approx 0.15 inches long, oval in shape, and similar to an apple seed. An image search will provide you with all the necessary visual help.
- Bed bugs are more likely found on overnight flights when passengers sleep and there’s little movement or disturbance.
- On aircraft, look for signs of bugs near cracks and crevices in seats and cushions.
- Watch for an itchy rash or red bumps as signs of bed bug bites.
Also known as Cimex lectularius, bedbugs have a beak to penetrate the skin. They inject an anesthetic (very considerate!) so you don’t realize you’re being bitten and an anticoagulant to keep your blood from clotting.
It’s interesting to note that WestJet Canadian Airlines said their aircraft are cleaned every 24 hours to prevent bedbugs.