Bedbugs Inflict United Airlines Passenger

Not a very comforting letter published in yesteday's NY Times:

To the Editor:

Re “This Bedbug’s Life,” by May Berenbaum (Op-Ed, Aug. 8):

I recently flew back to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., business class on United Airlines. In the car going home from the airport, I noticed a series of insect bites on the ankles of both feet that I had not had when I boarded the plane. They itched like crazy.

They were all over my back as well: my wife counted about 17 bites on my back, and there was a similar number on both feet. It took days for the itching to subside, and the scabs are still there. When I saw my physician, he instantly diagnosed them as bedbug bites.

Passengers can now add to the indignities of air travel the risk of being eaten alive by bedbugs infesting their seats. Apparently even business class isn’t worth fumigating these days.

David J. Anderson
Pasadena, Calif., Aug. 10, 2010

A 777 with UA's old recliner business class seats operates between IAD and LAX so at least the bedbugs have not been reported on United's new lie-flat seats.

I trust that UA will take this letter seriously and take immediate proactive steps to insure that their planes are free from any parasitic creatures.


Gene August 18, 2010 at 03:23 pm

I wonder kind of UA voucher he could score? $5,000?

@Gene: That much? I'd guess $250 on his first try and $400 more after sending a follow-up e-mail.

Martha August 21, 2010 at 06:06 pm

The same thing happened to me - Just flew in from Beijing in business class on one of United's old 777s, and today I have the telltale itchy little pink spots, in lines (apparently the bugs bite, take a short stroll, bite again, and so forth).

I am totally grossed out and terrified that they will take up residence in my house. I sent email to customer relations (they do not give out a phone number) and heard back that they might take up to 10 days to respond.

In the meantime I am throwing out my mattress and box spring, bedding, and the clothes from the flight. (This is the only way to avoid them -- washing and pesticides do nothing.) What a disgusting, and expensive, problem.

@Martha: I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. Please let me know how United responds.

Eric October 10, 2010 at 04:02 pm

I just left United Airlines flight 988 Denver to Los Angeles 10-10-2010. This was a 777 continuing on to Asia according to the flight attendant. I got off in LA. I was sitting in economy class in row 40 seat K. When I adjusted the video screen on the seat back in front of me, three bed bugs emerged from the top right corner of the display(where the screen cover meets the seat back fabric). I pressed the call light and did not get a response. To be fair they were in the middle of beverage service. In the mean tie I tried to scoop a couple of the insects into a flight sickness bag. This almost certainly succeeded in flipping at least one of the insects to the poorly lit area around my feet and carry on. Finally when they came to me for a beverage, I told the FA. She allowed me to relocate to row 45. Meanwhile, another passenger moved to my old seat and the passenger with the "infected" seat back remained in his seat oblivious. The flight attendants were nice and the lead did say that she reported the incident to the "powers that be". When I go to my hotel, I found another bedbug on my pant leg. I have thrown away my clothes from today and I'm going to go look for something to treat my luggage.

I have a week to try to simultaneously work and "delouse" in LA before another United ride back from LAX.

It seems from reading these posts that UA likely knows that they have problems with bedbugs on 777's on this Asia route.

Especially since I was in economy class, I expect no reply from United. I will repost if they do contact me.

I guess the morale of the story is a domestic or international ticket into LAX on a United 777 may just send you home with parasites.

Good Luck,

I'm off to burn my luggage.

@Eric: I'm shocked. That is absolutely dsigusting. Please let me know if you hear back from UA. I WILL avoid the 777s until UA addresses this point.

mowogo October 11, 2010 at 07:16 pm

Almost makes me wonder if that is the reason they limited the tours of the 777 yesterday

samuel November 4, 2010 at 12:07 am

Flew from Heathrow to LAX 11/1/10 economy class. started itching 1/2 through. next day covered in bug bites. New Zealand Airlines.

@Samuel: Very surprising to hear this happened on Air New Zealand. Thanks for sharing.

All: I was recently bitten by bedbugs on United flight 130. I've shared my experience here:

@Kym: That picture is horriying! Thanks for your comment and hope you feel better soon.

Are you sure the bites came from UA? About how long after the flight did the bites break out?

RR November 16, 2010 at 08:39 pm

An initial exposure to bedbugs would usually take several days before a reaction. There is NO WAY this person had the bites on that flight.. And they bite EXPOSED skin!! and they are nocturnal.. coming out at NIGHT to bite... did this passenger have his shirt off?? total BS. Kym is out to lunch and should be sued by United. You were likely bitten SEVERAL days before!!

@RR: I'm not sure about serveral days (though its possible), but certainly a visible reaction can be present 6-8 hours after the bites. I was bitten by bedbugs in Antigua a couple months ago and it took about 8 hours for the bites to show up.

Ty November 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm

@RR there's no set time to see the reactions to being bitten by bed bugs. It can be a couple of hours or a couple of days. Much like mosquito bites. Not everyone reacts the same. And is there a "NIGHT" time on an airplane? and being that bedbugs are smart enough to crawl in between sheets and furniture, I'm sure they'd have no problems crawling under clothing. Here are some articles with information you may find helpful.

RR November 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm

The flight was During the day. Bedbugs don't come out during the day.. That is why they are not called Couchbugs...

They bite exposed skin...

Unless these people have a history with bedbugs, the initial reaction WILL be days later..

Case closed.. bunch of loonies will believe everything they read on the internet..

Michael D November 17, 2010 at 11:00 am

Your wrong about bedbugs only comming out at night and the reaction times for the bites.Here is a link from those loonies at Cornell University.

Fred November 18, 2010 at 02:54 am

Fumigation does not work. Since these are indoor places - you cannot apply a significant strength of pesticide to kill these buggers. So ultimately - it is YOUR responsibility to check all seats, beds, sheets, etc with a flashlight - before accepting the seat, bed, sheet, couch. Word to the wise. But we all do this anyway right? I know I do. I inspect for everything including hairs etc to make sure lines have been changed. If not - right back down to the front desk for me.

British Airways also have bed bugs January 20, 2011 at 02:35 pm

I was also bitten on a long haul British Airways flight, it destroyed my holiday, I had nearly 50 bites on my legs and arms. The problem is that the bites start to itch and get red when you have already left the plane, next time I will take them to the Airport Health Authority

Denise May 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

It is really sad that the airlines are not seeing the big (bug) picture here. Just like the hotels and motels, they all need to"act as if" at all times and be proactive in prevention of bed bugs so they keep their clients safe from picking these hitchhikers up and spreading them further.

We are doing our best to provide "tested" products to people so they don't have to spend their hard earned money on bogus products.

If you travel it is imperative that you learn all you can to avoid bed bugs and bringing them back to your homes. We supply a unit for people to clean up their luggage with when they come home from a trip and precaution products t help them from getting them along with lots of great travel information.

When ever I travel I immediately place my luggage into the heating unit in the garage for a couple of hours before I bring it into the house. I have been lucky so far.

If anyone travels for a living this is a must have!

Let me know if you need one. 949-322-2098

Lori June 27, 2011 at 12:44 am

I was also bitten last week on a Southwest flight from St. Louis to LA. I started to get itchy on my lower back (where the skin was exposed) about 4 hours into the flight. I tucked my shirt into my pants and did not get any more bites on my back but ended up with about 30 on my arms and my 4 year old daughter had 4 on her lower neck on the side where she had put her head down on my lap. They were diagnosed as bed bug bites by my doctor. I am paranoid that they will get into my house!

Rachel schillinger September 25, 2011 at 06:30 am

Omg! I just traveled from Denver to Hawaii on united. I was eaten alive by bed bugs and had to throw away My luggage! I have over one hundred bites that have turned into welts. I am so itchy, so uncomfortable and so disgusted. United has not responded toy emails PR phone calls. Something has to be done about this!

@Rachel: So sorry to hear about that. Please let us know how much UA offers you in compensation. How long did it take after the flight for you to start itching?

Michelle September 29, 2011 at 03:20 pm

I just flew American Airlines Flight 3163 (operated by American Eagle) from LAX to San Jose, California on September 23, 2011 and our 19-month old daughter was covered in bed bug bites once we got off the flight. Unbelievable. Now we have a bed bug sniffing dog coming over to detect where they are in the house because she keeps getting bitten and they have infested the car, our bed, the couch, clothes ... disgusting.

Louise October 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm

I just flew United Airlines for the first time back and forth from Denver to Washington D.C. On the flight back to Denver from D.C. I noticed my leg itched. I thought nothing of it. Then the back of my arm was itching. On both spots about mid flight, the skin was red and puffy and started itching really bad. By the time I got off the plane I had about 5 to 7 itchy bites around the same areas. When I got home I started to get more bites on my lower back. It is only when my boyfriend started to tease me about maybe getting bed bugs from the plane that I thought it could be that. I started to investigate on-line about United Airlines reviews on cleanliness because I did notice (it was hard not too) how OLD and DIRTY the cabins were. To my horror I found this blog and a few articles that discuss United Airlines cleanliness issues and BEDBUG issues. Right now I am in the process of washing all my clothes, lines and have just thrown my luggage out. I am so upset and it is pretty gross. I will never fly with them again--I am so disgusted.

Brent November 29, 2011 at 06:26 pm

I just got back to my hotel to find that my room has been condemned for the next two weeks, all of my clothes are at the dry cleaners....I flew from Seattle to Dallas sunday night (11-27-11). I am not allowed to move to a new room until I receive my new clothes and change. I find this a bit much but whatever. I am still unclear what kind of bugs they found in my sheets. I have not yet contacted AA regarding this issue but to plan to before the nights end.

David January 12, 2012 at 02:19 pm

I recently flew back to Newark, NJ from Zurich, Switzerland on January 10, 2012 on United Airline flight# 979. After arriving at home before dinner, I noticed a series of insect bites on my left arm and right ear. They itched like crazy.

@David, was that a 777 with a 2-5-2 config in economy or 2-3-2 config in business?

Julie January 20, 2012 at 04:22 am

I flew from Chicago to Paris France on January 11th 2012, flight number 942 seat# 39K. It was an overnight flight. Didnt feel a thing until half a day later. My hip/buttocks/upper thigh/lower back areas are covered in bites. I've never had bed bug bites before. I went straight to my sister's apartment so it's not like I slept at a hotel. I started itching in the morning. Bed bugs are pretty much non-existent in France and her place was clean so it could have only come from the flight considering I begin to itch an hour before I got to her place. Plus I was sitting on the plane and this is where my bites are. We called United and they refused to acknowledge the situation and refused to pay us back. We called the bank and they are reimbursing us. I will be posting to Reddit and maybe make a Youtube video so that United mans the fuck up and takes some blame regarding this issue. Obviously I am not the only one dealing with this.

Here are a few pictures of my bites:

Jeano September 17, 2012 at 08:26 pm

Returned home 9/10/12 on a London to Chicago flight. I have bites all over my ankles and tops of my feet (I had on thick wool socks), as well as on my legs, back and arms.

Will be following up with AA tomorrow.

Buggy June 3, 2013 at 07:31 am

Your physician has no ground to stand-on in diagnosing bed bug bites. PhD. Entomologist can't tell the difference between a flea bite, mosquito bite or bed bug bite. All three have almost identical mouthparts and all three have potential to leave the same type of bump. Before bed bugs, every bite a person suffered was always diagnosed as a spider bite. A physician has no clue and is just giving a knee jerk opinion. Someone needs to start calling bullshit on them.

David Meyerhoff September 24, 2014 at 01:18 am

rr. You couldn't be more wrong. In my line of work, I deal with bb all the time and every 3 months or so, I intentionally let my self get bit by one. Sort of a litmus test. It usually only takes 20 min to an hour for the extremely itchy welt to appear. Everyone's chemistry is different so reaction times vary. They are also not nocturnal at all, however they do avoid light, but I have seen infestations where the little critters are walking around in daylight sun

Michele December 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

I took a UA flight Monday night from Houston to Philadelphia. I experienced about 20 bug bites on my back, hips, legs, stomach. I saw my doctor yesterday becuase I could not understand what was going on with the welts and the itchy areas and he confirmed bed bug bites. I am also afraid they were tracked into my home. I just called united and I was told to visit the webiste. My dr gave me a prescription for the itching becuase he said these bites are easily infected. We can't let them get away with this.

Frank June 29, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Recently took a united flight from washington to munich. 777 business class..The next day my ankles were covered with taking medication and had to get shots as I got a bad reaction...

Margaret August 27, 2016 at 05:03 pm

I took a United flight from Berlin to Newark in June 2016. Business class. Yup, bed bugs. I didn't realize until after I got home. Weeks of misery and lots of money spent. I know a lot more about bed bugs and their life cycle and the ways to eliminate them now. Finally got rid of them and had the sniffer dog in to verify that.

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