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Flight Attendants Advised to Gear Up for Bedbug Hunt: United Union’s Unusual Travel Advice

Amidst a bedbug infestation in France that’s sent shockwaves across Europe, the AFA-CWA, the union representing United flight attendants, is offering some rather unorthodox advice. They’re suggesting flight attendants pack disposable latex gloves and a flashlight for an unexpected mission – the hunt for bedbugs in hotel rooms. While it might sound like a scene from a horror movie, there’s a method to this madness, and it’s not just about avoiding bringing these creepy crawlers home; there’s an unspoken concern here – preventing bedbugs from hitching a ride on commercial aircraft.

In a recent press release, the AFA-CWA points out that bedbugs can be anywhere, anytime. These pests are notorious for their ability to hide in the tiniest of spaces and their stealthy nocturnal feeding habits. Plus, not everyone reacts to their bites, making it challenging to spot an infestation until it’s too late. Aside from the physical discomfort, bedbugs can take a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their victims, between loss of sleep and scarring.

While some hotel chains have better housekeeping protocols than others, even the most trustworthy hotel chains aren’t 100% immune to bedbugs. Earlier this year, a friend of mine encountered an infestation at a Hyatt-branded property in the U.S. – a chain many of us (myself included) place an extremely high degree of trust in. To be completely fair, the staff handled the situation very appropriately, even laundering their clothes at no charge – which is exactly what you’d expect from a brand like Hyatt. I won’t disclose the name of the specific property, as they handled the situation well, and clearly had robust protocols in place to deal with such a situation.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from these unwelcome roommates? Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Pack disposable latex gloves and a flashlight to inspect your hotel room thoroughly. Bedbugs love to hide in cracks and crevices.
  2. Opt for luggage with smooth, hard surfaces. Fabric, pockets, seams, and flaps provide hiding spots for these tiny invaders. I exclusively use hard-sided luggage, and this is one of many reasons why.
  3. Keep your luggage away from sleep and rest areas in the hotel room. Glass tables and luggage racks are your friends, and plastic is better than wood.
  4. Inspect the mattress and box spring for signs of bedbugs, such as tar-like splotches and shed skin fragments. Pay close attention to the corners, seams, and labels.
  5. Notify hotel staff ASAP if you suspect an infestation and take photos for evidence. The union even suggests bagging and keeping the pests in case you need additional evidence later… I’m not sure I have enough faith in Ziploc to put that into practice, but you do you.
  6. If you’re bitten or find bedbugs, get out of that room immediately. If changing hotels isn’t an option, move as far away from the infested room as possible.
  7. Upon returning home, unpack your luggage outside or on a garage floor and inspect your belongings carefully. Wash anything washable in hot water and dry at a high temperature. For extremely frequent travelers, you can purchase a unit to bake your luggage and its contents at a high temperature to ensure it’s clear of pests.
  8. Remember that eliminating an infestation can be a long process, and you may need multiple pest control visits. Bedbug-proof mattress encasements can help salvage infested bedding.

This advice isn’t just for flight attendants; it’s sage wisdom for all travelers, particularly those visiting Europe, where bedbug incidents are on the rise. Fortunately, the situation may not have as much of an impact in the United States due to more modern building structures and our tendency to drive places in our own cars.

However, if you’re considering heating your luggage to eliminate any potential bedbugs, here’s a crucial warning: Remove any lithium-ion battery packs before attempting it. We’re after bedbugs, not fireworks displays.