Rodent droppings “too numerous to count” were found by U.S. health inspectors near a Delta Air Lines Inc. jet’s galley where food and drink are stored.
The excrement and mammalian urine turned up in inspections from Jan. 26 through Feb. 2 at a Delta hangar at its Atlanta headquarters, the Food and Drug Administration said in an April 13 letter to the airline. Delta said today the plane was cleaned and returned to service within days.
Mechanical traps probably would be preferable to chemicals in trying to end a rodent infestation on a plane, said Chad Artimovich, who is the president of pest-control company Atlanta Wildlife Solutions LLC and has exterminated rats in recreational vehicles, mobile homes and a hot tub.
“You don’t want to use poison because then you have to go through the process of tracking it down and finding it and maybe tearing the whole airplane apart,” Artimovich said in an interview. “A dead rat stinks to high heaven.”
Delta took the rodent case “very seriously” and resolved the issue by temporarily parking the jet and “humanely catching the animal,” said Ashley Black, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based carrier.
Black declined to specify the type of plane involved, other than that it was used on international flights. It was returned to service within days after the rodent’s removal, she said.
“We believe this was an isolated incident and we cooperated with the FDA immediately to resolve it earlier this year,” Black said. “The health and safety of Delta’s customers and employees are Delta’s top priority.”
The FDA said rodent excrement was discovered above the right and left forward galleys and mammalian urine was detected in six areas on ceiling panels over a galley. Delta’s response to the agency didn’t include steps to prevent a recurrence, which is “likely” unless such measures are taken, the FDA said.
Federal regulations for transportation companies require that “all places where food is prepared, served, or stored shall be constructed and maintained as to be clean and free from flies, rodents and other vermin,” the FDA said.
The animal most likely to be involved in an airplane infestation is a roof rat, a species prevalent in Atlanta, Artimovich said.
Those rodents leave as many as 50 droppings a day, and a jetliner provides “everything a rat needs” with spilled nuts and pretzel crumbs and sources of water, he said.
“Once it gets in there and gets established, there’s no reason to leave,” he said. “The real concern is if a rat started chewing on wires. Almost every house I go into where there are rats, they’ve chewed on wood and wiring and ornaments. Their teeth are harder than iron and they have to keep them gnawed down.”