B.C. woman plagued by bedbugs on airplane not surprising, says expert

Heather Szilagyi was on a British Airways flight when she noticed bedbugs crawling out of the seat

Seven-year-old Molly Reid is seen on a British Airways flight on October 10, in this handout photo. (Ho/The Canadian Press, Heather Szilagyi)

A B.C. woman plagued by bedbugs on a nine-hour flight to London is a victim of the explosive growth in the critters globally, but travellers shouldn’t worry they’ll become a common feature on planes, says an entomologist.

Heather Szilagyi was on a British Airways flight with her seven-year-old daughter and fiancee Eric Neilson on Oct. 10 when she said they noticed what appeared to be bedbugs crawling out of the seat in front of them.

She said the flight attendants couldn’t move them because there were no other available seats on the plane. After landing, Szilagyi discovered they were covered in bites.

“To actually see them pouring out of the back of the TV on the seat, that was actually really gross,” she said. “Once we arrived at our Airbnb … we put everything through the washing machine on the hottest heat we could, put everything in plastic bags, sanitized everything that we could.”

Murray Isman, a University of British Columbia professor of entomology and toxicology, said with the increase in personal travel and the spread of the insect globally, it’s not surprising bedbugs are finding their way onto commercial aircraft.

“One of the ways bedbugs travel is in hand luggage and personal luggage,” said Isman, who also works with a company that develops bedbug repellents. “Where there is a lot of movement of people in and out, sooner or later someone is going to transfer these things in something they’re carrying, and this is how they get spread from hotel to hotel to hotel and this is how people bring them home.”

Changes in local insecticide use and climate change are other factors contributing to the spread of bedbugs, he said.

But travellers shouldn’t be too worried there will be more incidents of bedbugs biting passengers on planes, Isman added.

“If you think about the normal situation which is someone sleeping in a hotel bed or a bed at home, the bedbugs don’t like a lot of disturbance or movement. They like it quiet, dark,” he said, adding the critters would first have to get out of luggage and onto a plane’s chairs and upholstery to even reach people.

Szilagyi took to Twitter to share photos of her daughter’s bites after she said her calls to British Airways failed to guarantee they would not be on the same plane.

READ MORE: Trip of a lifetime on hold for North Delta-born evacuee

“What we both would have been satisfied with was if it was possible to just have us on a partner line, not to fly back with British Airways,” she said, having been left unsettled by the experience.

In a statement, British Airways spokeswoman Caroline Niven said the airline has been in touch with the customer to apologize and will investigate the incident further.

“British Airways operates more than 280,000 flights every year, and reports of bedbugs onboard are extremely rare. Nevertheless, we are vigilant and continually monitor our aircraft. The presence of bedbugs is an issue faced occasionally by hotels and airlines all over the world,” the statement said.

Niven added that any reports like Szilagyi’s are taken seriously, and the aircraft would be subject to any checks and treatment necessary.

A statement from the Vancouver Airport Authority said it took immediate steps when learning about the incident to work with its cleaning and pest control partners to ensure the airport remains clean and sterile.

Isman said exterminating the bugs is the best option for airlines since treating people and luggage before they get on an aircraft isn’t feasible.

With travellers increasingly aware of the problem, he said more people are at least taking preventive measures by carrying insecticides or repellents to hotels to reduce the spread.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Officials for Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project named

Project is estimated to cost $450 million

Letter to the editor: I stand with them

Hazelton resident shares his perspective on why he supports the Wet’suwet’en

Terrace cab stolen, found destroyed along Hwy 16 riverbank at rest stop

Driver was sent to Prince Rupert hospital after stealing the running vehicle from company lot

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Okanagan man swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

‘Hilariously bad’: RCMP looking for couple with forged, paper Alberta licence plate

Mounties said the car crashed when it lost a wheel but the duo ran away as police arrived

UPDATE: Two missing scout leaders found near Sooke after swollen creek traps troop

Third leader and scouts located, prior to search for two leaders who’d gone for help

Most Read