Ever since airlines started cheaping out on pretty much everything, it’s pretty rare to receive a blanket on a flight. But on a recent cross-country trip, we were pleasantly surprised to receive soft, snuggly blankies tucked into our seatbacks. They were hermetically sealed, and upon opening, smelled perfectly clean.
But before we cuddled up to take a deep inhale, nightmares of the flu started dancing through our heads. We had to take pause: Just how clean were these (and all airlines’) blankets, really?
Unsurprisingly, the answer is complicated. It depends on the airline, it depends on the flight, and, of course, it depends on the blanket in question.
One anonymous flight attendant confirmed on Reddit that freshly washed blankets are only given to the first flights on any given day. “Those blankets and pillows? Yeah, those just get refolded and stuffed back in the bins between flights. Only fresh ones I ever saw were on an originating first flight in the morning in a provisioning city.” Meanwhile HuffPost blogger and flight attendant Sara Keagle echoed that in her airline’s coach section, “Freshly washed blankets are only supplied to the first flights of the day; after that they’re just folded and re-used.”
But even if they’re wrapped in plastic, they may not be fully clean. Back in 2000, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (which supplies blankets to major domestic airlines) accused clients of repackaging without cleaning. And in 2007, The Wall Street Journal’s investigative reporting team found that most airlines only cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days — and discovered traces of bacteria that can cause infections and pneumonia.
The controversy grew so large that some airlines, like Southwest, have since done away with blankets altogether. Meanwhile, JetBlue, US Airways, and American Airlines now charge for them, so you know you’re getting a freshie to take home.
But with all of that said, the blankets have probably been washed more recently than your airline seats have been deep-cleaned, so if you’re digging through seat pockets, or feeling around on the floor for your purse, “cleanliness” all becomes kinda relative, doesn’t it?
Our advice: If you’re cold, go ahead and use a blanket, but maybe don’t bury your face into it to practice your pranayama. Otherwise, skip the blanket…and no matter what — for the love of god — wash your hands when you get off the damn plane.
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