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It’s October, and that means spooky season is upon us—a fact that I don’t have to tell you Halloween lovers. In honor of the season, I have decided to tackle some truly horrifying things…about hotels.

We flight attendants spend a good amount of our time in hotels. And mostly it’s great. Anonymous, but fine. A clean, safe place to lay our heads. But sometimes a hotel experience is not so great. The reasons range from bone-chilling creepy to downright gross. And we’re counting them down today. Hold onto your hats while we discuss the 9 creepiest and grossest things about hotels.

9 Most Horrifying Things About Hotels

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Come on in, if you dare.

9. Bed Bugs

I figured we could start with the obvious. If you’re not a flight attendant or pilot, you might not know that bed bugs are, indeed, the obvious. A clean-looking or expensive hotel does not ensure a bed bug-free stay. These suckers can be crafty at hiding. All it takes is for one person to carry a bug or two in with their bags, and you’ve got a full infestation on your hands. Bed bugs are common enough that there is a kind of unwritten protocol that many FAs and pilots undertake when they get to their hotel rooms. First, we check for murderers. (Well, I do. But we’ll get to that later) Then we check for bed bugs.

Checking for bed bugs is pretty simple. You may have done it yourself before. But in case you haven’t and in case you’re not sure what you’re looking for, read on. Many people begin by lifting a corner of the sheet off the mattress, and to this I say/scoff: “Premature!” Truth be told, you can do this in any order, but please ensure you are also checking in between the sheets where your body will actually be laying and not just underneath.

Pull up the fitted sheet from your mattress. If there is a mattress cover underneath with fitted edges, pull that up, too. I like to inspect layer by layer, because IDK if bed bugs prefer an actual mattress over a worn in mattress cover or not. If the mattress cover is not removable, then I tend to assume it’s okay underneath. Now that it is naked, look along the seams of the mattress and along the sides. Lift the corner and take a peek underneath. Look in the stitching of the quilted top portion. You are looking for little black or brown specks. Not the bed bugs themselves, contrary to popular belief, but instead you’re looking for their feces. Yeehaw!

Bed bugs are really good at hiding themselves, but they leave their shit behind for us to find. If there is an infestation, you should be able to see evidence of it. Another myth is that bed bugs only live in beds. Not true, friends. They actually love to live behind headboards, baseboards surrounding a room, and other fun places. So *IF you are* going to half-ass this search (hey, I get it, long day of travel. We’re tired.) then do yourself a favor and focus on the head portion of the bed, rather than the foot. Not only is it way more disgusting to think about them crawling on your FACE, but it is more likely they’d want to hang out between the bed and the wall by that big wooden headboard, rather than the wide-open foot area of the bed.

To be clear, in my eight years as a full-time flight attendant, I have only had two possible encounters with bed bugs. One was a maybe at a crew hotel, where I found some suspect material on my bed, and another was an Airbnb, where I saw no sign of bugs. (though I don’t think I checked as thoroughly on that vacation) Later, after the Airbnb stay, I found bites all over my body that looked like the markings of bed bugs.

Look for red dots (bites)  in patterns of three. They bite you, walk a little bit, and bite again. So gross. So very gross. If you find these marks on yourself you should assume you’ve been bitten by bed bugs and that they are in your belongings. Take action immediately. They can be killed from extreme heat or cold. So, if you’re traveling, go ahead and check that luggage under the plane. The temperature in the cargo hold gets very very cold. Leave the bag in the garage, if you’ve got one, when you get home. Wash the laundry in hot water and dry on a hot setting. The suitcase and other non-washable items should stay outside, ideally in the heat of summer sun or in the frigid temps of a New England winter. Don’t have access to hot or cold? I’m not sure what to do then. Google is your friend.

 

What I do know is the more fabric you’re touching, the more susceptible to getting bed bugs in your things. USE YOUR LUGGAGE RACK. Don’t ever put your suitcase on the floor or you could get bed bugs or even worse.

8. Hidden Cameras

This gives me the willies whenever I think about it, and I think about it at least once per every hotel stay. We’ve all seen the investigative programs, like this one from Inside Edition, about creepers spying on hotel guests. In fact, there is a new documentary about it on Netflix, called Voyeur. There is also a plethora of web articles, YouTube and TikTok videos on how to check your room for hidden cameras.

Technology can be a beautiful thing, but it can also make staying safe more difficult. And privacy? Fahggetaboutit. Cameras these days are tiny—smaller than a pencil eraser. They can be placed virtually anywhere and go unnoticed. I spend a lot of time in the buff in my hotel rooms. Mostly because I can’t be bothered to pack pajamas. It will happen randomly and out of nowhere that the idea will strike me. “I wonder if someone is watching.” A shudder runs through me, and I consider putting my clothes on. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t, but it is good motivation to stop picking at my face.

The thought of someone watching your intimate moments without your permission is one of the creepiest things I can think of, and that is why it made the top 9 list of creepiest things about hotels.

7. The Water

If you watched Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix, then you are fully on board with this one. This is the tale about a young girl from Canada, traveling alone, who went missing in Los Angeles. I don’t want to spoil the series for you if you haven’t seen it, but let’s just say, the tap water in the Cecil Hotel was NOT up to health and safety standards.

A flight attendant I flew with recently told me about a time when she touched a cloth to the sink faucet for just a dab of water, and when she pulled it back there was black sludge on the white cloth. She wiped the inside of the faucet to discover there was a lot of this sludge-like material. Who even knows how long it had been there. She said it grossed her out so much that she doesn’t even want to brush her teeth with the tap water in some hotels.

Full disclosure, I do use tap water in hotels. For coffee and tea making, and occasionally, depending on the city, for drinking water if there is not a filtered filling station readily available. But, these tales do make me rethink my tap water consumption—even just for teeth brushing. I may have to implement a wipe down of the faucet during my pre-stay checks from now on.

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Would you be able to spot a hidden camera in your hotel room?

6. The Glassware

Undercover videos in the early 2000s brought to light the fact that many of the drinking glasses in hotel rooms are not washed properly if at all. Each major hotel chain has its own protocols for cleaning, but whether they are met in every instance is a different story. I work on an airplane, a far filthier environment than hotel rooms, but I know that company protocols do not always = practice on the frontlines.  In some of the videos shown on news networks, glasses were wiped with a towel and replaced or sprayed with surface cleaner and replaced.

This probably does not happen in all hotels and it probably does not happen all of the time, especially now with enhanced cleaning procedures for COVID. But this idea skeeved me out for a long time to the point that I would bring my own paper cups from the plane to drink my coffee out of.

I have since traded my obsession with dirty glassware for a compulsion toward eco-consciousness. There is always a tradeoff isn’t there? Now, I cannot justify within myself using more single-use disposable items than necessary. If there are glasses in the hotel, I am probably using them. I do run them under hot water, wipe them out with a cloth, hot water again, until I feel better about it. Many flight attendants carry a small container of dish soap with them on trips. I confess that I am too lazy to do dishes on the road, so I rely on hot water to do all my dirty work until I get home. But it wouldn’t hurt to use on the hotel glassware—just in case. I carry a travel mug with me on all of my trips, so if there is an option like coffee in the lobby or a designated lounge for airline crew with coffee carafes, then I will opt out of using my in-room coffee maker altogether.

5. The Bedding

This falls more under the category of “gross” than creepy. When pulling off the linens to do your mattress inspection, you may notice that the bedding at the hotel is different than your comforter at home. Generally speaking, hotels use a system where two sheets surround a down comforter, one on the top and one on the bottom. The two sheets act as a duvet cover, surrounding the blanket on each side. And if you’ve ever removed and replaced a duvet cover for cleaning, then you can see how this method could save a lot of time and frustration. (Lining up the corners? Hell no.)

The sheets are laundered with each new guest…or they should be. Inside Edition did an investigation in 2016 and found that even the sheets aren’t always changed with each new guest. Yikes. But policy dictates that they should be freshly laundered each time.

But what about the comforter itself? What about the pillows? The mattress cover?

I think we all know where this is going, and if we’re honest, deep down we’ve known it all along. The blankets, pillows, and mattress covers are washed far less frequently if at all in hotels. And the lower the star rating, the less likely the bedding is going to be clean. I don’t stay at many 1-2 star hotels, but in high school I attended parties in them. If you see a floral blanket covering the bed, rather than a white sheet, do NOT snuggle up with this blanket. Sit on it in jeans if you want, but know that this is not the place for sleeping in the nude. Also, if you’re in an establishment like this, do an extra thorough bed check for bugs, stains, hair, blood, and dirt.

I know, this stuff isn’t pleasant, but you asked for scary.

If you are in a hotel that employs the two-sheets on the duvet system (most decent or better hotels do), then rest easy knowing the sheets *should be* clean. My only advice here is don’t go rolling around with the actual blanket. Only the sheets should touch your skin.

Millennials have a reputation for not using top sheets (which, let’s be honest, probably means it is a different generation that boomers have mistaken for millennials). As a millennial and a top-sheet enthusiast I have to urge all of you – younger and older—please use all your sheets in a hotel room. They are there for a reason. And also, do it at home you nasty freak.

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Some of the recent delights I've found in my hotel rooms on layovers. =)

4. The Coffee Makers

If you are one of the people who drinks coffee on an airplane, I implore you to stop. There are many reasons it is disgusting, but we are not talking airplane stuff today. Today we’re on hotels, and from what I hear the in-room coffee makers are not much better.

To be clear: I almost always use my in-room coffee maker. I’m a certified caffeine addict and don’t feel human until my second cup in the morning. So take this piece with a grain of salt.

Hotel coffee makers have a reputation for being one of the gross items in your hotel room. One of the reasons is that, while they may be wiped clean with a cloth, they rarely—if ever—are cleaned thoroughly on the inside. Coffee makers that hold water (ie not pour-over or French press) can collect mold or mildew on the inside due to being wet all the time. Your coffee maker at home should be cleaned every now and again by doing a vinegar brew to get out bacteria. It also helps to prevent buildup of whatever is in your water—heavy metals, fluoride, etc—and keeps your machine functioning well. Think of it like an oil change for your car. I’m sure some of you are thinking “oops”, and you wouldn’t be alone. In my previous days of drip coffee-maker owner, I never did this important step. And SURPRISE, hotels don’t do it either.

I have had a few instances where I tried to brew hot water for tea in my hotel room, only to find the water filled with black specks of unknown origin. Dirt? Chipping paint? Plastic? Mold? Something else? When this has happened I have brewed a few more cups to see if it was simple matter of needing a “rinse” brew to clean it out. But after several cups still containing this material, I call for a new machine to be brought.

Not only are the machines not cleaned thoroughly, but I have heard all kinds of stories of guests doing disgusting things with the coffee makers. If it is an actual glass coffee pot in the room, the ick factor is increased exponentially. I have heard of flight attendants washing their TIGHTS in an in-room coffee pot. I hope to god this story is a fabrication, but having worked with a range of people in my eight years ‘on the line’, I can’t rule anything out.

My tip for using hotel room coffee makers is this: Brew water first. Think of the black specks in the water I mentioned above being camouflaged in a cup of black coffee. Now think of them in your stomach. Brew a cup of hot water before you brew coffee to ensure that the water comes out clear. If you feel inclined, go ahead and wipe the inside of the machine with hot water and a clean cloth, but this brewing of the water is an important step if you’re actually worried about the coffee maker. If there is a coffee pot, treat it like the other glassware we have talked about and give it a thorough rinse-and-wipe with hot water.

3. Other bugs

Bed bugs are not the only pests one needs to worry about in a hotel. Thankfully I have never encountered any rodents (Just the squirrels who made their home in my roof, but I digress.) but I have seen plenty of creepy-crawlies in my years of hotel-living.

Nothing will ruin the mood like seeing a roach in your room. And that is just what happened to me. About to settle in for some Toni Time, I went to shut the bathroom light off and something caught my eye. A giant cockroach in my shower. Just moseying about by my shampoo and conditioner. The audacity. What made it worse was the fact that just before bed the night before I had taken a long-ass steaming hot shower. I was exhausted and just hanging out in the hot water. It was a longer shower than environmentally conscious people should take. I was LuXuRiATiNg in said shower. And all the while this little creep could have been anywhere. In the shower door jam. On the floor by the toilet. On the ceiling above my HEAD?!!!

I have had ants in my hotel room—a line of them that went from the window sill, down the wall, across the floor, and up onto my desk. Those ants are so efficient it’s kind of impressive to watch. But not impressive enough to stay in the room.

Years ago while doing my initial room inspection, I pulled down the blanket and top sheet to ensure nothing was hiding out in there. At that point in my flight attendant career, this was not part of my routine check. Previously, I had checked for bed bugs like most people do—just looking around the edges of the mattress. I would remove a corner of the fitted sheet to check, never looking closely between the bedsheets—where I would actually be sleeping. But on this particular night wewere staying in South Florida, and there were little plaques in the room explaining that basically “bugs exist here” and why the water is yellow. Dear SoFlo, you are gross. Because of this placarded bug warning, I took the extra step of fully taking the bedding apart, and it’s a good thing. For as I drew back the sheets under which I was to sleep, a big black spider came hopping out. Ever since that day this is the most important part of my bed-checking routine. A bed bug might cause more havoc, but there are few things for me than the thought of a furry spider on my bare skin.

2. Stranger Danger

Ever had someone walk into your hotel room while you’re in bed? It’s inconvenient if it is housekeeping and you’re trying to sleep, but it is downright creepy when it is not hotel staff.

It has happened enough to know that it is not uncommon to have duplicate keys made for the same room. Flight attendants I’ve worked with have shared stories of entering their room to find someone in there, or trying to open their door, only to have it stop short because it is already bolted from the inside. One time I entered my hotel room and was surprised to find a full men’s toiletry case sitting on the sink area. Razors, toothbrush, the whole kit n’ caboodle. There were a few other strange things like the ice bucket containing a bag with some water, indicating it had held ice at some point. It was sitting on the desk and not where it belonged. The bed was made, but these items indicated the room hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned. Was the person still here? Would I unpack my suitcase only to have a man enter the room, sweaty from a trip to the gym? It gave me a creepy enough feeling that I asked to be moved and I ended up switching rooms.

Pro Tip from a flight attendant: If it doesn’t feel right, speak up and get out. This is how we do things on the airplane, and I recommend doing it in all other arenas of travel as well.

Another factor to consider is that, as with most technologies, digital locks can be hacked. Here is a 2017 article from Wired that details how a burglar took advantage of this in hotels. Getting your shit stolen is rough, but the real creepy factor here is having a stranger rummaging through your things—or worse, entering while you’re there! ALWAYS use your manual locks when you are inside your hotel room.

And this brings me to my next point…

You're probably safe in your hotel...but be cautious anyway.

1. Death

Halloween people over here sitting up straighter while the rest of us cringe. To my non spooky lovers, I’m sorry this had to get dark. But it had to. This is by far the scariest, creepiest, most horrifying thing about hotels.

 

Death is a part of life. It can happen anywhere. But there is just something about hotels….

Apart from the normal freak accidents, random heart attacks, or dying of natural causes that can happen anywhere, hotels bring a certain je ne sais quois..a dark anonymity that makes them a ideal spot for other, more grim scenarios.

Read more about what makes hotels “lethal locations”

Hotels can be hot spots for suicide, due to that anonymity. And, if you have seen the Cecil Hotel docuseries, you know that that’s not it. Serial killers Richard Ramirez, “The Nightstalker,”  and Jack Unterweger both called the Cecil Hotel home whilst committing gruesome murders in Los Angeles. Grifters, vagabonds and serious criminals can seek refuge in the starched white sheets and do-not-disturb privacy of hotels.

There have been highly publicized cases of people found dead in hotel rooms, including Nancy Ludwig, a flight attendant murdered in her Detroit hotel room in 1991, and Rose Burkert and Roger Atkinson, a couple murdered in their Amana, Iowa hotel room in 1980. The Iowa case is still cold, 40 years later.

Dad, if you’re reading this, now would be a good time to stop.

Being a flight attendant means anonymity is baked into the cake. We travel from city to city, across state and country lines, and through multiple time zones. We are on the go so much that our friends and family usually have no idea where we are—or if that is where we are supposed to be. We blend into the background scenery of most peoples’ travel experience. I’m just a uniform, forgotten after you deplane. And we spend A LOT of time alone. Put that together with the fact that I carry a suitcase with ostensibly valuable possessions everywhere I go. My passport, my computer, jewelry, etc. All these factors make flight attendants and pilots vulnerable to attacks. Whether of petty crime—a simple robbery—or something much worse.

As a woman who does most things alone, and who has an active writer’s imagination, I think a lot about murder. Mostly about avoiding it. I send friends my location and a photo of my counterpart’s driver’s license when I go on a date. When hiking, I choose busy, popular trails to ensure I’m not alone in the woods. I never run at night. And the first thing I do in any hotel room, before cleaning the glass and before checking the bed, is to check for murderers. Not kidding. I check in the closets, the shower, behind the curtains, and under the bed. (I have figured out from personal experience that most beds are not high enough up for a human to fit underneath, but old habits die hard.) Basically, I don’t want any surprises.

You probably won’t get murdered in your hotel room. But be careful and cautious anyway.

And that’s it, folx. Those are the creepiest and grossest things that make hotels rather terrifying places. The big takeaway? Be aware but not obsessed. Don’t let thinking about your hotel take away from the great time you’re having on vacation, the focus you need on that business trip, or the R&R you should be catching up on. There is only so much we can do, and beyond that, we’ve got to be like Elsa. Let it go.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post about all the creepy, gross, and scary things about hotel rooms, and I hope it hasn’t scarred you into wanting to write off travel forever. Hotel employees—any other gross or creepy things we should be aware of? You’ve got an audience here, please share! Other flight attendants and frequent travelers: Any spine-tingling or gag-inducing hotel stories you want to tell? We are all ears!

Until next time, here’s hoping you have safe travels and that your spooky season is all in good fun <3

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Hey you. Yes, you! Thanks for stopping by. I’m Toni and I run things here at aWheelintheSky. I hope you liked reading about all of the creepy and gross things that make hotels truly horrifying places. If you liked what you read, I hope you’ll consider subscribing so you can catch all the travel tips, insider secrets, and juicy flight attendant stories.

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