Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

Christian Harris, a long-term HFP reader, runs a decontamination cleaning business.  He offered to write a few thoughts on what you should look out for when travelling at the moment, either by plane, bus or train.  Over to Christian ….

When the world is on hygiene lockdown, it’s hardly a surprise that cleanliness has become a hot topic. Analysis of the Twitter feed of one gym chain showed a 3,900% increase in tweets regarding cleanliness and hygiene in the two weeks leading up to the UK lockdown!

Whilst cleanliness on British Airways planes, in particular, has always been point of vigorous discussion on Head for Points, now more than ever this takes on critical importance.

Who you gonna call?

You’ve probably all seen people dressed up in what one of my safety industry friends called “Ghost Busters” outfits, which is showing the industrial side of hygiene, but what exactly are they doing?

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

Why are some companies doing this and others are “only” vigorously wiping down surfaces?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there on this topic, which is a bit worrying if you think about it! Generalist cleaning companies, who, in my experience, often cannot do rudimentary daily cleaning that well, are offering “decontamination” services; there are specialist contractors who seem to be only doing sanitisation.

So, let’s try to give some clarity for you as an individual so you can best protect yourself.

Clean vs sanitised vs disinfected

Firstly, you should know that there is a difference between cleaning, sanitising and disinfection.

Cleaning is the removal of soiling, whether visible of invisible, from a surface

Sanitising is the reduction of bacteria and germs

Disinfection is the removal of bacteria and germs

You can sanitise a surface without necessarily cleaning it first, or indeed you can have one product or process which does both (e.g. your Dettol spray at home). But you cannot disinfect without thoroughly cleaning first, so not every all-in-one process will necessarily work.

Even after disinfection, the next time a surface is used it could have germs on it again

It is possible to leave a residual effect on a surface following disinfection which repels any germs, keeping them airborne where they will swiftly die out (we are doing this in lots of buildings once per week right now). However, if that surface gets soiled or has too much abrasion on it, it can become a landing place for bacteria again.

Many disinfection processes do not even leave that residual effect, so as soon as the first person with the virus on their hands touches a door handle, that is contaminated.

Disinfection is not a one-and-done; you need constant maintenance. Do not assume that a clean looking surface has no germs on it.

So, what should you do, practically, to reduce risk to yourself and others when travelling?

I’m at home shielding my youngest who has asthma, but if I were travelling anywhere, I would take my own spray or pack of wipes with me.  I would be cleaning and then disinfecting any surfaces before I touched them – door handles, coffee cups, taps – you name it.

It’s important to do a double process because surfaces can be dirty but with invisible contamination.  You want to physically clean this off the surface first and then disinfect.

Note that if you have alcohol-based wipes, the alcohol will almost certainly be used up cleaning the surface. You will have nothing left to kill germs – you definitely need a double process, which means using a second wipe for the final polish.

You could buy something like Milton Antibacterial Surface Spray and / or Milton Milton Anti-Bacterial Surface Wipes for this. I can vouch for these on a personal level as someone with two kids under 6!

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

So use one spray and then one wipe, or two wipes may be easiest.

Naomi Campbell was on to something, basically, with her infamous pre-flight seat cleaning regime!

tips for cleanliness and hygiene on your travels during coronavirus

Are planes / trains / coaches / tube carriages being cleaned and disinfected?

Without looking at exactly what is being done by an individual operator, it’s impossible to say. I strongly suspect all transport operators are doing more to try to clean, sanitise or disinfect, but the devil is in the detail as mentioned above.

As such, I would be very vigilant about any surfaces that I was going to touch.

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face!

Interestingly, cases of Norovirus are dramatically down this year because people clearly are washing their hands more than they would have done before. Hopefully we can all stick to this higher level of hygiene when the world returns to normal.

Christian Harris is the founder of Decontamination Cleaning UK ( and Slip Safety Services ( Until December 2019 he was a BA Gold card holder but has now, much to his chagrin, been demoted to Silver.

Comments (62)

  • Anna says:

    I’m a bit confused by this article. It mainly refers to bacteria and “germs”, whereas COVID is a virus. Everything I’ve read about it over the past 3 months states that it can only be killed with a viricide such as bleach or a >60% alcohol product, not anti-bacterial fluids or wipes as suggested here.

    • davvero says:

      If only we had Shoestringo on here to comment on this. He knew more about this virus than anyone else.

    • Christian Harris says:

      Hi Anna,

      As I tried to say there is a difference between sanitising which will reduce and disinfection which removes.

      There are very few products proven to kill COVID-19 given it’s a new virus.

      Public Health England suggests cleaning then disinfection. Hence my tips about using disinfectant wipes on your travels and ensuring to do a two-step process.

      Hope that helps,


      • Dr says:

        “There are very few products proven to kill COVID-19 given it’s a new virus.”

        This being the case, why are we all asked to wash our hands more regularly then? Presumably hand soap is of little to no benefit, and certainly not proven to kill COVID-19?

    • Chris says:

      SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is an enveloped virus and therefore is very easy to “kill” or inactivate. Soap and water will easily disrupt the membrane, as will bleach. Alcohol works but it needs a decent concentration to be delivered and wipes dry out quickly which makes it more difficult in practice.

  • BJ says:

    @Genghis … are you now losing sleep over all those Mr Muscle bottles you gave your MIL? Big money down the drain 😀

    • Genghis says:

      The goodwill built up is priceless! Especially as they were effectively free (or were the points free?) 🙂

  • Relaxo says:

    Bill Maher had a good segment on this the other week, how this is going to give rise to a generation of OCD patients, which in it’s most serious form is arguably worse than Covid. Basically, you cannot disinfect the entire world & the virus out of existence. Obviously decomtination of wards is necessary, very good to be washing hands more often & being mindful of not touching face +surfaces needlessly, but the focus on wiping down each and every surface is hugely misplaced. Specifically for covid, the limited evidence outside lab conditions suggests it has very low marginal reduction in risk. Infection requires both necessary and sufficient conditions (I.e. just because the virus particle survives for 6 hrs on a surface dosent mean you will get infected).

    • mradey says:


    • TGLoyalty says:

      Agree though I think simply wiping down surfaces a little more often and simply good hand washing Routines (or using sanitiser where not possible) is good for stopping people catching a number ailments, lots far worse than COVID19.

      • Lady London says:

        it’s going to be really, really interesting to see what British Airways is going to claim in terms of improved actions for cleaning cabin interiors.

    • Wally1976 says:

      Yes it’s an interesting article but it does concern me how obsessed people are going to become with cleanliness.

  • Andrew says:

    Aren’t Google Ads great? We have a good wee article on cleaning and hygiene when travelling…

    And Google (or maybe a deliberate HfP ad) is running ads for a “dirty weekends” in a kink focussed “Sanctum Hotel” in London.

    That mirror over the bed looks scary…

    • Jake says:

      I got the Sanctum Hotel ad too…

      Wanna go halves? 🍆🤦‍♀️

      On a more serious note, how does it end up on multiple personalised versions on a FF website? Surely the hotel have not asked google to target a FF website or is it based of other, potentially less salubrious, “internet activity”

      Interested to know how the HFP ads work

      • Ken says:

        And there was me worrying about my search history.
        I wouldn’t be able to not think about what kind of filth previous occupants had got up to.

        • Lady London says:

          Why am I only getting ads for some kind of phone booth thing to be used as a cubicle in the office?

      • Marcw says:

        Google Ads are personalized based on your internet behaviour. Nothing to do from the editor side.

    • Secret Squirrel says:

      Google ads that you see are based on your viewing history using cookies to match your previous online activities – so the big Q Andrew is??😅

      • Anna says:

        I’ve got adverts for property for sale in the Cayman Islands, so my searches must be boringly travel related even in these times! (They are definitely not related to investing in a tax haven, unless I’ve won the lottery and nobody told me).

        • ankomonkey says:

          Shark Steam Mop for me. I’m gutted and clearly need to up my hobbies game…

          • Rob says:

            The ads are also triggered by the content in the article. However, in general advertisers will pay more to appear if you have visited a relevant website recently which is why those ads are more prevalent.

          • RussellH says:

            I get these too.
            But I run a couple of Google blockers on my browser and never use Google (or Bing) for search.

    • AJA says:

      I rather boringly got an advert for hand sanitizer 🙂 I am not disappointed that I didn’t get the hotel though I am not sure I’d admit to it if I had.

      I will admit to wiping the surfaces around my seat on board aircraft and I carry wet wipes and a small bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer. I will be interested to see what BA does to properly clean its aircraft, they’ve not exactly got a great reputation on that score.

      • ankomonkey says:

        I’m sure the hotel is far more interesting than the Shark Steam Mop…

  • S says:

    Is this a sponsored post? Not sure if the business details are provided to give credibility or paid promotion. Its best to make this absolutely clear.

    • Rhys says:

      Not sponsored, otherwise it would have ‘sponsored’ along the top!

    • Christian Harris says:

      Hi S,

      No, not a sponsored post.

      I included my company as well as the bit about my BA cards to demonstrate that I know what I’m talking about both in terms of travel and cleanliness & hygiene.


  • Riccatti says:

    Naomi Campbell video: through cleaning of the seat, but notice how tries on A LIPSTICK right on her lips. How many people tried it on before..

  • BrightonReader says:

    What does his BA status have to to with the price of fish?

    But would one really trust someone who despite reading HFP let’s their status slip in such an egregious way??


    • Peter K says:

      Ha ha. Maybe the BA status is to prove they have flying and not just cleaning credentials.

      • Christian Harris says:

        It’s the first time I’ve admitted publicly that I am now a mere Silver

        Don’t hold it against me

        Yes, the idea was to show that I know a bit about travelling in addition to about cleaning

  • Joseph Heenan says:

    “It is possible to leave a residual effect on a surface following disinfection which repels any germs”

    Would it be possible to expand on this point please – I presume it requires the use of particular products? Is it something that’s backed by scientific research?

    • Christian Harris says:

      Hi Joseph,

      Many disinfectants will leave a residual effect of applied using an electrostatic sprayer but *only* until they are contaminated or touched – so this has limited benefit.

      There are others that have a “stronger” ongoing effect of around a week, but again very much dependent on not being too heavily touched or contaminated.

      There is a product, which is being used by TFL on tube carriages for example, which leaves a residual layer that cannot be removed by touch alone and can be recleaned / resanitised as much as you like. This lasts for up to 30 days with various data to support this.

      If you want any details feel free to contact me via either of my websites.