British Airways has admitted one of its 747s was infested with bedbugs, after a passenger sustained bites around her torso and had to repeatedly shoo away bugs inflight.
The airline has grounded the 747 for treatment by specialist bedbug eradicators, but not before frustrating the customer with so many denials that she started a website, ba-bites.com.
Yahoo executive Jane Selkirk flew on two separate occasions with British Airways, and the first flight turned on her light to discover her shirt was blood-spattered and swarming with bugs. On the second flight, she found 90 bug bites on her body, and had to flick bugs crawling over the inflight entertainment screen.
After the flights British Airways customer service staff reportedly told the customer that they had no authority to do anything unless she sent a letter of complaint by postal mail. The airline eventually apologised and offered monetary compensation to Ms Selkirk after it was contacted by two journalists.
Comments posted on ba-bites.com include comments like, "as a former crew member I too was well bitten in the crew rest bunks on a 747 aircraft!"
One commenter said "I also was on that same flight and was severely molested by those nasty bed bugs. To be fair, I think you walked away OK because you were only bitten on your back. When the bugs attacked me they aimed for the crotch area. Try sitting through a 10 hour flight with an extreme case of itchy #@#$%." You can read the full comment -- however it is not for the faint hearted.
Another passenger said she had taken to sealing everything in her carry on luggage in clip-lock bags, and using another clip-lock bag for things she wanted to carry in the seat pocket. "It may look funny and might be a bit of a pain in the ass, but it’s a sure way to protect against bed bugs," she said.
According to another passenger, it had become necessary to put his entire carry-on bag in a large, sealed polyethelyne bag before storing it in the overhead locker.
Not everyone was sympathetic to Ms Selkirk though. One commenter wrote: "Two different aeroplanes both had bed bugs in seat 15. Both had her sitting in seat 15. You do the maths. Chances of someone else being at fault zero. Chances of her being at fault 99.999999999999999999%. Time to buy a bar of soap."
Bedbugs are a growing problem around the world. The epicentre of the problem is New York, where major hotels, department stores and fashion boutiques have been battling infestations of pesticide-resistant bugs, along with the city's long-suffering residents.
A dedicated bedbug iPhone app has been created to help people report instances of bedbug infestations and let others avoid those places.
The University of Sydney has been warning for some time that bedbugs are a rapidly growing problem in Australia, too, with reported infestations growing 4,500% between 1999 and 2006 in one survey.