Can You Get Bed Bugs From Public Transport?

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

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Yes, you can get bed bugs from public transport! Bed bugs have been found on buses, airplanes, trains, school buses, subways, taxis, and rideshare vehicles.  In fact, a 2018 survey of pest control professionals in the USA found that 19% had treated a mode of public transport for bed bugs.[1]

How Do Bed Bugs End up on Public Transport?

Any method of public transportation you take is at risk of having bed bugs because they are moved around by us in our bags, clothing, and other belongings.

Bed bugs live and thrive wherever people are as they need our blood for survival, so it makes sense that they are found infesting different public transportation vehicles because they provide access to humans for a blood meal. 

Buses, planes, trains, etc have lots of small cracks and crevices for bed bugs to hide away in where you won’t notice them.  Since these pests can fit into gaps as narrow as a credit card, these spaces give them plenty of opportunities to hide near you, meaning they don’t have far to go for a meal. 

You probably see all sorts of different types of insects on your travels, so how can you tell if it’s a bed bug? Well, bed bugs can only crawl, they cannot fly and do not jump. Adult bed bugs are brown-red in color and are similar in shape and size to an apple seed (about 5-7mm in length) as you can see in the photo I took below.  Learn what bed bugs look like and how to identify them.

Image of bed bug similar shape and size to apple seed and flax seed
Image of bed bug (center) similar in shape and size to apple seed (left) and flaxseed (right)

Tips to Avoid Bed Bugs on Public Transport

Because there has been such a rise in bed bug infestations, most transport companies are proactive and have trained their staff to look for and report any signs of these blood-sucking pests.  Most will also have a contract with a pest control company that will carry out inspections and bed bug treatments on a regular basis. 

Although these measures are in place, it’s always best to remain vigilant.  After all, you don’t know how many people riding your bus or the subway over the past few days had bed bugs in their belongings that escaped and are now hiding in your seat.

To put that into some perspective, a Dallas, Texas, pest control company claims to treat between 5 and 10 rideshare vehicles for bed bugs per week![2] 

Although there are no guarantees that these hitchhiking pests won’t find their way into your luggage or onto your clothes and get transported to your home, there are a few things you can do to limit the chances of this happening: 

  • Bed bugs prefer wooden furniture and upholstered furniture to hide in, so if possible choose a plastic seat to sit on as bed bugs find plastic too slippery to crawl on.    
  • It might not be ideal, but stand up instead of sitting on a fabric covered seat.  That way you prevent any bed bugs from crawling onto your clothes or into your bags.   
  • If traveling by taxi or a rideshare vehicle don’t put your belongings in the trunk as any bed bugs that have crawled out of the previous passenger’s luggage will soon be crawling onto yours and going home with you. 
  • Your backpack, purse, laptop, and other smaller belongings should all be kept on your lap and not placed on the floor or on a nearby seat. 

Airplanes are not immune to the odd bed bug infestation either, so if you were hoping they couldn’t survive a long-haul flight or high altitudes then I’ve got bad news for you because they can.

  • Inspect your seat for the common signs of bed bugs such as fecal spots and live bed bugs in and near the folds and cracks and crevices of the headrest and seat.  As these pests like to feed at night, you’re more likely to experience them on overnight and long-haul flights.  
  • On your flight, take your own pillow and blanket and don’t use the ones the airline provides.
  • Try and get a vinyl or leather seat as they tend to have fewer folds and creases for bed bugs to hide in than upholstered seats.
  • Wear long-sleeved tops and full length pants, shoes and not open-toed sandles. The aim is to cover as much exposed skin as possible so any bed bugs will have a hard time biting and feeding on you. 
  • It’s a good idea to keep any carry-on luggage in a plastic bag to keep the hitch-hiking pests from getting inside. This also prevents them from being transported to your next destination with you. 
  • If you can, use light-colored, hardshell luggage and suitcases with no folds or creases for them to hide in.  The lighter the color, the easier it will be to spot any bugs on them.  
  • Having said that, replacing all of your luggage can be expensive and a less expensive way to keep bed bugs from crawling into clothes inside the suitcase is to put all your clothes and belongings into a plastic, sealable bag such as these on Amazon.

    I personally haven’t tested any of the bags, but I would be happy to use the Ziplock range based on the reviews of them being durable and having a double zipper. By keeping everything in one of these you are limiting the chances of taking bed bugs back home with you.  

Keep in mind, it’s not just on public transit itself that you might find bed bugs, but also in the waiting areas in train and subway stations and in airports, so check before sitting on any benches and upholstered seats.

Think You Might Have Picked Up a Bed Bug or Two on Public Transport?

If you use public transport on a regular basis then you are certainly increasing your risk of picking up a bed bug and taking it onto your next destination such as the office or your home. 

Thankfully, as I said above, a growing number of city transit officials and airlines are trying to deal with the growing problem of bed bug sightings by having regular pest control inspections and treatments. 

Upholstered seats are starting to be replaced with plastic seats on some modes of transport as they make it difficult for bed bugs to crawl up and infest. 

Plastic seats on public transport prevent bed bug infestations and hiding places
Plastic seats on public transport limit bed bug infestations and hiding places

But even with these measures in place, it’s always best to remain vigilant.  If you think you might have picked up a bed bug (one bed bug doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have an infestation), there are few things you can do:

  • When you get home immediately put your clothing on a hot wash and then in the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes at no less than 125ºF (51ºC) heat. Adult bed bugs die at 119ºF (48ºC) but their eggs die at 125ºF (51ºC).
  • Leave your belongings in the garage and don’t bring them into your home until you have inspected them.  Look in the folds and creases of fabric material on bags for example. 
  • When returning from vacation, leave your suitcases in the garage until you have time to inspect them thoroughly for any signs of bed bugs or live bed bugs.  Also, wash and dry all of your clothes (check label recommendations) at the temperature mentioned above.

    If you don’t have a garage, place your suitcases and belongings into plastic bags sealing them completely, and place them in your bathtub or shower cubicle which has a surface that bed bugs struggle to climb. A light colored bathtub also makes it easy to spot these rusty colored pests that drop off into it. 

Read reviews and what to consider when buying a mattress encasement.

Know what the early signs of an infestation are as not everyone reacts to bed bug bites.  If you are sure you’ve found evidence of bed bugs then you can either treat them yourself with these steps on how to locate and kill bed bugs, or call in a pest professional, which is always the best option, to carry out a bed bug treatment.  

For a free, no obligation quote, fill out the form below but always do your research when choosing a pest control company to make sure you’re getting a qualified and experienced pest professional to do the job. 

[1] https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/press-releases/pest-control-professionals-see-summer-spike-in-bed-bug-calls/ 

[2] https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/bed-bugs-expert-says-he-treats-5-10-rideshare-vehicles-per-week/287-d8d2170b-bcd1-4e78-a589-4db280302360

Related Pages

What are bed bugs?

What do bed bugs look like?

If you find one bed bug, is there usually more?

How to check your hotel room for bed bugs

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