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Germiest rides to the airport

My story this week for CNBC will have you reaching for the hand sanitizer next time you hail a taxi, rent a car or use a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft because a recent study found that – no surprise – the surfaces passengers come in contact with most often are full of germs.

A swab-carrying team from insurance comparison site NetQuote took samples from seat belts, door handles and window buttons on three random taxis and ride-hailed vehicles and the steering wheel, gear shift and seat belts in three random rental cars.

The testing was done in South Florida, and while testers expected taxis to yield the highest amount of bacteria, when lab results came back with counts for the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) and bacteria present, it was actually ride-hailed cars that turned out to be the germiest.

The study found more than 6 million CFUs per square inch on average, while rentals averaged a much smaller amount of 2 million CFU/sq. in. Taxis had an average of just more than 27,000 CFU/sq. in.

“To put it in perspective,” the report notes, “rideshares averaged almost three times more germs than a toothbrush holder,” the study said, while the number of microorganisms in both rideshares and rental cars was more than those found on toilet seats and in coffee pot reservoirs.

The research team did not single out which ride-hailing companies it tested, “in the interest of not characterizing specific companies unfairly,” according to a spokesperson.

An Uber representative said the company doesn’t directly inspect cars for cleanliness. However, Uber said its two-way feedback system — where riders and drivers rate one another after each ride — is the main method through which vehicle cleanliness is noted and addressed. If a driver’s car is dirty, they’ll likely get poor ratings and hear about it from local Uber teams, the spokesperson added.

No one from Lyft responded to my request for comment.

Not all germs are harmful, of course, but high bacteria levels increase the chance that harmful microorganisms are present. And some potentially harmful germs, such as bacillus, cocci and yeast, showed up repeatedly in the samples.

Although taxis were the cleanest rides of the three tested, they were by no means free of germs.

The swabs taken in taxis showed that the most germ-filled surfaces were seat belts, with 26,000 CFU/sq. in. Meanwhile, seat belts in rideshares had 38 times more bacteria.

Taxi door handles had 1,570 CFU/sq. in., around 55 times more bacteria than in a typical car door handle, the study notes, while taxi window buttons were surprisingly clean, with just 23 CFU/sq. in.

In the rental cars tested, both the steering wheels and gear shifts had more than 1 million CFU/sq. inch, while the seat belts showed a relatively low rate of 403 CFU/sq. in.

How can you avoid the germs?

“When you rent a car, take a moment to wipe key surfaces such as the steering wheel and gear shift with a soap-based wipe before you touch them,” the report advises. “And once you leave the cab or rideshare, wash your hands as soon as possible — and avoid touching your face until you do.”

There are plenty of products you can carry to help fight germs too, including the Clean Well sprayer, an all-natural, alcohol free, version popular with people looking for something as an alternative to Purell, said Paul Shrater, co-founder and COO of Minimus.biz, a site that sells travel-sized products.

“One thing to note is that once you call something ‘sanitizer,’ ‘antibacterial’ or ‘disinfect’ it is actually considered an over-the-counter drug, and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because you are making specific medical claims,” said Shrater. “That’s quite different than something that just claims to ‘clean’ like a regular soap, so if you are really looking to kill germs, look for something that has one of those phrases,” he said.

Lambert St. Louis Int’l Airport celebrates travelers

STL Airport

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) has enlisted a yellow jellybean-looking character to help kick off a week of  customer appreciation events as part of National Tourism Week, May 1-7.

The yellow bean will be available for selfies at an interactive display window in the Terminal 1 baggage claim and there will be a special event each day, including free snow cones on Tuesday and a Budweiser Clydesdale on Thursday. (A horse in the airport? I’ll ask for photos…)

Here’s the schedule:

Monday, May 2: Two Pedros Band | Concourse C | 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 3: Free Snow Cones by Southwest Airlines | Gates E14 & E16 | 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Dave & Greg band w/ Tim McCready | Concourse A | 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

St. Louis Cardinals’ Fredbird | Terminal 2 | 3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 4: Looney Tunes characters from Six Flags St. Louis | T1 & T2 | 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Kara Baldus Trio feat. Regi Drake | Terminal 2 | 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 5: Budweiser Clydesdale | Terminal 2 | 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Johnny Chase Duo | Concourse C | 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Friday, May 6: Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers | Terminal 2 | 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

SxSW concerts at Austin’s Airport

AUS SXSW
(Photo of Austin’s Charlie Belle band courtesy Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport)

The famed South by Southwest (SxSW) music festival is underway in Austin and for those flying into town the fun starts right at the airport.

In addition to the 21 regularly scheduled live shows already on tap at Austin Bergstrom International Airport this week, there are a several sanctioned SxSW showcases featuring Austin performers.

The official added shows are designed to welcome SxSW attendees to town and send them off in style – and all take place post-security.

So don’t rush to baggage claim when you land.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday., March 14

Suzanna Choffel (Indie Soul/Jazzy Pop) – 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

Charlie Belle (Alternapop) – 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Tues., March 15

Jai Malano (Modern Blues Vocalist) – 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

Faye & The Fayettes (Smart Soul-Pop) – 3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Mon., March 21

Jackie Venson (Indie Blues Guitarist & Singer) – 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

Carson McHone (Alt-Country/Americana Songwriter) – 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

Learn how to save lives at the airport

Elisabeth Rohm American Heart Association Kiosk at DFW Airport, Friday, January 22, 2016. Photo by Brandon Wade

Elisabeth Rohm American Heart Association Kiosk at DFW Airport, Friday, January 22, 2016. Photo by Brandon Wade

Travelers with time on their hands at the airport can learn how to use those hands to save lives.

The American Heart Association and the Anthem Foundation are installing Hands-Only CPR (HOCPR) training kiosks in five major airports – with the first kiosk debuting today at O’Hare International Airport and the rest set to roll out by mid-March at Indianapolis International (IND), Las Vegas’ McCarran International (LAS), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI) airports.

These kiosks join the pilot kiosk installed in 2013 at the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) by AHA and American Airlines Occupation Health Services.

Cindy Contreras

Each Hands-Only CPR training kiosk has a touch screen with a video program that gives a brief “how-to,” followed by a practice session and a 30-second CPR test on a practice manikin, or a rubber torso. The kiosk provides feedback about the depth and rate of compressions and proper hand placement – the key factors that influence the effectiveness of CPR.

Why is taking a few moments to learn CPR more important than having another airport cupcake?

Because each year more than 359,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital and more than 20 percent (71,200) occur in public places such as airports.