Here’s Why SAA Sprays The Cabin On Some International Flights

Some say their lowest moments in travel history has been covering their face with a pillow as the planes cabin interior gets hosed down with disinfectant spray on the runway in Senegal during a 2am stopover.

In an effort to get ‘under the hood’ of this inconvenience of modern day commercial air travel, we did some research, and spoke directly to South African Airways about the practice of airplane cabin spraying after the doors have been sealed.

Why do airliners spray?

The Civil Aviation Authority says:

“The process of ‘disinsection’ is required under the International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization (WHO) on flights to and from certain destinations to prevent infectious and contagious diseases carried by insects and other volatile bodies. Rules established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) require that disinsection does not injure or cause discomfort to passengers or crew. These rules permit the use of certain insecticides, which have the approval of and are recommended by the WHO based on their effectiveness and safety.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says:

“Residual ‘disinsection’ provides an insecticidal deposit on inside walls of structures (cargo areas or passenger cabins) to kill target insects that come into contact with the treated surface. Such deposits are intended to remain active for an extended period of time. For aircraft disinsection, WHO currently recommends d-phenothrin (2%) for space spraying and permethrin (2%) for residual disinsection.” – [Source: WHO]

SAA says:

“This process has been prescribed to us by international health regulations stipulated by WHO. All International and Regional services operating in and out of the Republic of South Africa must be disinfected according to the “blocks away” method at the last point of call prior to leaving and entering South Africa. In some countries like Australia and the US, it is a health requirement by their customs authorities. We also have to spray the cargo hold before travelling to these countries. By spraying the cabins on SAA flights we are in compliance with international protocols. We are not required to use any disinfectant spray other than the WHO approved one. The spray is not an SAA spray but a WHO spray.” – Nape Malatji, SAA

What spray does a major carrier like SAA use?

For the purpose of disinfection of South African Airways aircraft, single-shot Servopak Airline Insecticide (Reg.No L1907 Act 36/1947) aerosol dispensers are utilized. All possible insect harborages inside the aircraft must be treated. The active ingredient is Permethrin. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the spray safe for use onboard the aircraft. Port Health authorities worldwide monitor the spraying of the aircraft. Extensive research has been conducted regarding the safe use of Permethrin for aircraft disinfection.

An Air Stewardess spraying disinfectant in the cabin of an airline before departure.

Is the spray harmful to passengers? What can passengers do to prevent being effected by the spray?

The spray used by airliners is not harmful to passengers. According to South African Airways, passengers irritated by the spray can, “Cover their noses, mouths and eyes until it is over”.

Our Readers Comments

  1. I always wonder why does SAA spray the plane on arrival at a high malaria etc risk country like Ghana. But not on arrival back in SA from Ghana?

  2. The lowest point of their journeys is having to be sprayed with disinfectant?? The lowest point of that route is the 2hr stop over in Dakar. People need to Harden up. I have been traveling in Africa for years and it is common practice to spray, it is intact a requirement. No body wants malaria for starters. If the spray smelt like strawberries and chocolate, I am pretty sure people would love it, and inhale every vapor molecule they could.

  3. All airlines are required to do it

  4. So forget SAA and fly with someone else. They’re usually the most expensive anyway. When I last flew with them in 2006 on my way to the USA, they stopped in west Africa, then sprayed the cabin before going to Atlanta. Since then I’ve only flown direct with Delta airlines, and not once have they sprayed their cabins. So I don’t know how all this works, I think it’s stupid as not everyone does it.

  5. The spraying makes me feel like a citizen from a backward country. I accept the spraying and do not hold it against any airline, but why not spray on all international flights?

  6. It’s not only SAA…I’ve travelled with Emirates to India and they also do it. I agree with Berna…it makes one feel that it is only in “poorer” countries this spraying thing is done. I’ve flown to Euorope and Canada….it was never done on those flights.

  7. SAA are not the only ones who spray. Emirates also spray down the cabins. I was recently on a flight to and from Thailand and they sprayed on departure from Thailand so it’s not only SA they are worried about.

  8. I’ve seen on other airlines spray there cabins,now why is it when SAA spray it becomes a problem,they are just following the WHO health regulations

  9. I fly 8-10 times a year and all over the world, using various airlines and only see SAA spraying. I fly Europe mostly on KLM from CApe Town and they don’t spray at all

    • A direct flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam is not sprayed because it does not involve a malaria area. If there is a stop in Maputo, for instance, there is a risk of malaria mosquitos entering the plane, so spraying is sensible. Common sense….

  10. It should be a good idea if they spray prior to closing the overhead baggage compartments. The hand luggage carried into the plain is the most obvious carriers of crawling insects. Make sense to me!

  11. Stop moaning over little things like spraying. Start worrying about airspace been unsafe, planes old and cabin crew unfriendly. That’s more important because that is the journey that lasts for hours – spraying only for minutes

  12. I think all planes including domestic flights should be sprayed after every flight. the last time I flew from CT to JHB m the woman in front of me head was crawling with lice, caked with dandruff (sic). next to me was s snotty nosed child wiping her nose on the seat. behind me a guy that stank of sweat. the cabin crew announced that the plane was to turn around and go straight back to CT. what about the next load of unsuspecting alighting passengers?? I will avoid flying at all costs

  13. I fly very often domestically and I have experienced the spraying on several ocassions. I think people are just trivial. I agree that it can be a little irritating, but I think it is for the good of all travellers. Germs and crawling insects are all over, hence, the spraying. Let’s just not criticise for the sake of criticising, but look at the bigger picture.

  14. Agree with Abbey. We need to look at the bigger picture, and stop being so fickle over little things like spraying. Just bear with the crew, its over in 5 minutes anyway. Like the article says, just cover your face.

  15. The spraying is recommended world wide by WHO. Its just that some airlines ignore it which is not right because if really the spraying is to disinfect then some airlines ignore it, they putting passengers health at risk especially when transiting.

  16. And what about international flights where carriers of Ebola virus may be in contact with you, either at an international airport or same connecting flight? Despite platitudes about it being transmitted only by direct contact, we are not wholly convinced.

    What precautions are being taken against Ebola, because this is how it got to Lagos in Nigeria, through a visitor from another West African country.

    I once went to the USA in 1998 and upon my return to SA I became very ill with some form of flu, which I picked up on the way via Heathrow airport in London. It was most unpleasant. I was ill for several weeks.

    • How can you be so sure you picked up the bug in London? The flu has a incubation period of 48+hrs. Meaning if you showed symptoms on Wed, you probably contracted it on Monday.

  17. I think they should also introduce dipping – make flyers go though tanks and drying areas and then perhaps providing them with a brand new dressing gown and slippers and an optional mask for the ongoing journey.

    • Ha ha..

    • Hahaha sounds good to me, they should also dip on buses and trains haha

  18. Wish they would spray all domestic flights as well – especially in winter with all the flu bugs going round.

  19. We always fly Emirates and they seem to spray whenever we fly back from an Asian country. Have no problem whatsoever as the alternative (bringing nasty unwanteds back)is not agreeable.

  20. This is a WHO guideline, but some of you still winge and whine like a bunch of spoilt children at private school. It’s time you grew up and started worrying about the important things in life.

    • You might be a little more concerned if you bothered with facts rather than ignorant opinion. The WHO guideline is based on work done 25 years ago! I used to do consultancy work for WHO and gave up because this sort of incompetence is typical. Believe it or not, there has not been any scientific research done on the effect of toxic spraying on air crew or passengers who are regularly exposed to it. I live in tropical Australia and use an insecticide with 1 tenth the concentration of the stuff used on planes. It is very effective and the way it is used on landing by aircrew goes against all the instructions for even my relatively feeble domestic spray. Children and asthmatics are particularly vulnerable to these toxins. If spraying happens to you regularly, you are a complete fool if you don’t wear a mask for 10 minutes after it starts. The effects might be comulative and nobody has bothered to find out! All they publish is very old estimates of half-life.

  21. After coming from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg, I paid my dues to the SAA spray – I was not quick enough to prevent breathing in some of the spray and spent the day I arrived in the hospital emergency room with a very scary full body rash which flared and subsided for the next 3 days! With all due respect I hope the next victim does not go into anaphylactic shock!

  22. I travelled to and from South Africa to Senegal in 2003. did not mind the spray as it was explained to us why it was done.
    What I did not know is that it is a WHO requirement as well

  23. I have already flown on countless international flights and there are many companies that use the spray such as KLM, TAM, British Airways, AirFrance, Alitalia, etc. It depends where the flight is departing from and where it is going to as the spray usage is based on existing diseases either in the inbound or outbound country.

    The bad news is that there are two main active ingredients: permethrin and d-phenothrin – as this is sprayed in an enclosed environment, once the pesticide is in the air system, and the passengers are breathing it in, you can’t get it out. There are many cases of Parkinson’s disease related to exposure to permethrin – and there are many cases on the news of flight attendants suing the airliners.

  24. I’ve just returned from SA on Air France where they sprayed us before take off
    It was a night flight
    On arriving home that evening I began to feel unwell
    I was violently sick with dizziness, weakness and headache. I am still not well, very weak and can’t eat. I don’t have a temperature. I had the same meal as the rest of my family who are all fine so it can’t be food poisoning
    I am sure it is poisoning from the insecticide spray. It is present in the cabin all night and you breath it in for 10 hours!
    THis stuff should be banned.

  25. you morons are zombie sheep accepting all these chemicals sprayed on you…. your probably the sheep who think chemtrails arent real either… im not accepting getting sprayed on by anything!

  26. If anybody wants to express their thoughts about this event or others related about airplane safety, please leave a comment on our website.

  27. To be sprayed on by a toxic chemical (pymetherin) and then be forced to breathe it for hours is nothing less than insanity. People cannot be this ignorant. This chemical works by attacking the central nervous system of the insect. Do you think your nervous system is exempt from this severe damage because you’re a human species? This same chemical took my friend and her family’s health down fast after 3 days of breathing it in her bedroom carpet. She had wanted to get rid of a flea infestation. She lost her health, her very high paying job; everything lost to this supposed harmless toxin. Her daughter became ill shortly thereafter. Believe me, if you knew the physical suffering involved in being poisoned, you’d re-think your game and fight this lunacy tooth & nail. It was devastating to watch this family lose everything in the blink of an eye all because the EPA says it’s safe. Shame, shame, shame on our government for permitting the sale and distribution of such a vile poison while pretending it’s harmless. Read Amputated Lives by: Alison Johnson.

  28. I flew to Perth WA with Emirates from Dubai in October this year-the crew sprayed the cabin after doors were closed-some of the crew covered their faces as they did so-which did not send a good message to the passengers. When I asked the crew what was in the spray-they had no idea.I also asked why no-one has thought of an alternative method of disease/ bacterial control[especially since the business class section has below window lockers which remained closed-even though the overhead ones were all opened prior to the spraying]so,all in all ,it seemed more of a “box ticking exercise ” than an effective disease prevention. Certainly,as an ex nurse-I do not welcome any chemicals in my body that I am not anticipating!

  29. Do feel this is wrong especially in a confined area, it must be awful for the staff breathing it in on a daily basis.

  30. Do we know the health impact of inhaling the insecticide for infants ? I haven’t been able to find any research on the matter. I do understand the necessity to spray but I do hope also that there is no side effect on human beings…

  31. ETIHAD belongs to the same bunch of idiots. Where do they take the right from to force me and others to undergo a treatment with spray of toxic Permethrin. They do not even inform you before the flight. Then I would have the possibility to renounce and fly with another airline. Horrible to see how they treat their passengers and even more horrible to think of their crew members who enjoy this treatment on every flight. I shall inform the authorities of my country about this. WHO is to blame a lot of recomending such treatments. Albert Einstein said: “Two things are eternal. The first one is the universe. The second one is human stupidity. Only with the first ohe I am not really sure”.

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