Germs and Air Travel

Peace of Mind From a Whiff of Bleach

By ALAN BRILL5/26/09

I’M in the toilet seat business. My company makes a computerized toilet seat. Basically, the patron never has to touch anything because the computer automatically changes the plastic sleeve that covers the seat.

When I tell my seat mates I’m the guy that makes that computerized toilet seat, women always seem to ask the same question: Why don’t they have them in airplanes?

Most of them know about the product because the seats are in lots of casinos, restaurants, country clubs and 15 airports. But no airplanes.

The reason is simple: If the airline is charging you a bag fee, do you think they are going to spend money on my product? The answer is no. It’s all finances. A few women I’ve met on flights loved the product so much they gave me a little peck on the cheek.

And those kisses are O.K. by me, even though I’m a germophobe and proud of it.

I’m not as bad as Howard Hughes, but I have to say I absolutely abhor the bathrooms on airplanes. Think about it. They are dirty, filthy cesspools. I like to call them “the United Nation of germs.” How many times have you ever seen an attendant go to the back of the plane with cleaning products to tidy up that bathroom? We’re lucky we get a glass of water in flight nowadays. I’m sure we’ll have to pay for that soon.

In my various travels, I’ve learned what airports have the cleanest bathrooms and those that are just a mess. My favorite airports in terms of cleanliness are the Portland Jet Port in Maine and the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. Because the airports are small, cleaning crews are working all the time. I love the smell of bleach in the morning.

I hate having to go through the big hub airports like Houston and Atlanta. There are so many people going through the airport and using the facilities that there really is no downtime, making it impossible for a cleaning crew to keep up.

But I have managed to find ways around my germ-phobia. I carry antibacterial wipes with me wherever I go.

And I am not too proud to use them on the door handles of the plane’s restroom before I even open the door. And whether it’s on the plane or in one of those big airports, I’m not too proud to wipe everything down myself.

Considering all the problems that we are having with weird mutating germs, I think I’m pretty smart. I am spending a lot of money on those antibacterial wipes, though. So I wish the stock market was doing better.

Since I am first and foremost a salesperson, I have this watch that I wear that has a toilet seat-shaped logo. I made it as a promotion to give to clients and potential clients. It’s a great conversation starter.

Back in 1996, I was flying from Newark to New Orleans. My seat mate was a fellow who just happened to be the chief executive officer of a small casino. He looked at me kind of funny and then commented on my watch. Anyway, we got to talking and he bought some of my seats, about 60 of them, for his casino. Now, he’s a huge deal in the business. And guess what? Today, he is my largest client, with nearly 700 of my seats in his casinos.

It just goes to show that you never know who are you are going to meet on a plane. So I keep on traveling, despite the germs. I just wish I could buy those antibacterial wipes by the truckload.

By Alan Brill, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com.

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