Airline Blankets and Pillows Could Be Making You Sick

The way you snuggle inside the airline-provided blanket and rest your head on the pillow would make any seasoned traveler shudder.

Several strangers have laid their heads on the same pillow and wrapped the same blanket across their bodies. Some of them had dirty hands, others had runny noses, and someone might also have used those in-flight amenities to wipe their sweaty face. Let’s not get started about those who drool while asleep.

When you use those same pillows and blankets, you are literally inviting in germs and bacteria.

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Aren’t Airline Blankets and Pillows Laundered?

Not as often as they should be. Back in the year 2000, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees made shocking accusations against their clients for not washing the blankets before repackaging. Who was their client? Royal Airline Laundry. These people are supposed to provide clean blankets to some of the top American airlines. So, even if you see your airline pillow and blanket in plastic packaging, don’t assume they are clean.

A few years later, in 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that most airlines clean their blankets every five to 30 days.

In 2017, Nicole Byer, a famous American comedian, tweeted about having found a piece of human feces in her airline blanket. She was flying first class.

If all that wasn’t enough, several cabin crew members and airline employees have gone on record on Quora, Reddit, and even HuffPost to say that fresh airline blankets and pillows are usually provided only on the first flight for the day. For the subsequent flights, the blankets are just folded and reused.

Unless visibly soiled, most airline amenities are repurposed.

Studies have found traces of bacteria that can cause eye and lung infections in airline blankets. The pillowcases had traces of black mold. For you, the fungus can lead to pneumonia and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Now it makes much more sense why you often feel sick after your flight. The warm blankets and comfortable pillows are the culprits.

The Current Situation

But that’s all in the past, right? Airlines would surely be more concerned about cleanliness today?

Not really.

To avoid actually cleaning the pillows and blankets, some airlines have stopped providing these amenities, while others have started charging extra for warm blankets and clean pillows.

The bottom line?

  • If your airline doesn’t offer pillows and blankets, your flight could be uncomfortable and you’ll be cold 38,000 feet above the ground.
  • If your airline charges extra for these amenities, you’ll have to dip into our travel fund to have a comfy flight. It might mean skipping a visit to that famous restaurant at your destination because you had to pay to not freeze on the flight.
  • If your airline carrier does offer blankets and pillows, you are going to be in the company of germs, bacteria, fungus, viruses, and other people’s saliva and sweat.

As if long-haul flights weren’t enough of a pain already, now you have to worry about the pillows and blankets, too. But there are solutions.

How to Get Clean Blankets and Pillows

If you don’t want to dish out extra money, but still want to get clean blankets and pillows on the flight, it is best to bring your own.

When you bring your own blankets and pillows, you know where they have been. You also know that you won’t be resting your head on other’s germs, or wrapping these germs around your person.

There are a lot of options for travel pillows and compact travel blankets available both online and in local stores that you can consider.

Are Pillows and Blankets Considered Carry-ons, or Personal Items?

Most airlines allow passengers one carryon bag for the flight, which will fit in the overhead cabin. Then, you are allowed one personal carryon that you can fit underneath the seat in front of you.

Which category do pillows and blankets fall in? Do you need to pay extra for pillows and blankets on a flight?

It depends on your airline carrier.

If you are flying with a full-service airline, they won’t mind you carrying a pillow with you on your flight, provided it is either packed in your carryon bag, or inside a plastic bag.

The same cannot be said for low-cost airlines. Luggage penalties are their way of making up for low ticket prices. So, if you have a suitcase, a purse, and a pillow in your hand while boarding, that might be considered three items, which is more than you are allowed.

Also, your pillow should meet your airline’s personal items limit. So, check the rules of your airline and make sure the size of your pillow meets these rules.

It is best to pack a full-size pillow in your personal items bag, and make sure it fits under your seat on the flight.

Travel neck pillows are a different case, though. If you board a flight with a travel neck pillow around your neck, it is counted as attire, and not carryon. So, while exact rules vary from airline to airline, travel neck pillows are your safest bet.

As for blankets, if you can fit one in your carryon bag, that is great.

If it fits in your laptop bag or purse, which you take as a personal item, that would be fine, too.

If it does not fit in any of these, just take it along on your arm like you’d take your jacket, and the airline will see it no differently than a jacket.

With that, one thing is clear, you can carry a pillow and a blanket with you for a flight. Whether it is a personal item or carryon depends on your airline and its specific policies.

Am I Safe from All Health Hazards While Traveling Now?

Not yet.

The water in the lavatories, the lavatories themselves, in-flight tea and coffee, magazine compartments behind the seats, and the tray tables aren’t too clean, healthy, or hygienic either.

Now, there is a limit to cleaning supplies that you can bring from home for your flight, but sanitizers and wet wipes can help.

Wipe everything before you touch it, sanitize your hands often, and pray your immunity is strong enough to ward off any infections that you might catch on the flight.

Also, get travel insurance before your trip.

Imagine being forced to cancel your trip, having a medical emergency abroad, or the airline losing your luggage.

These are just some of the situations where a comprehensive travel insurance plan can come in handy. You cannot avoid any of these travel mishaps. However, travel insurance can at least ensure you have the opportunity to receive compensation for any event covered by the policy.  

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Prepping For the Trip

While you are packing and preparing for your next international flight, make sure to:

  • Get your own pillow and blanket.
  • Pack generous amounts of wet wipes and sanitizer.
  • Get adequate travel insurance.

Have a safe and healthy flight.

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For visitors, travel, student and other international travel medical insurance.

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