Meet the people who collect airplane bags

Steve Silberberg was flying from Boston to San Francisco as a college student in 1982 when he noticed the small bag in front of him.

I bet no one collects them, he thought.

So he slipped the bag – United, light blue, helpfully written instructions on the surface – and put it on his door. Friends started donating bags from their own travels. This is how the collection became the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum, which now has more than 3,200 copies.

“A lot can be said about an airline’s image from its airsickness bags,” Silberberg, 61, writes on one of two sites dedicated to his hobby. “Some barf bags are nothing more than a bag with a twist tie, while other sick bags could win international design competitions. Are they artistic? I think so.”

He is not the only one. Contrary to what he thought four decades ago, other collectors around the world share his quirky enthusiasm, posting their own prized possessions online, swapping new finds and even connecting in person at companies’ memorabilia events. airlines during the pre-pandemic period.

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But the global community of “baggists,” as some call themselves, is small and not growing, in part because of an aging cohort and because fans say the bags aren’t so great anymore. Instead of the branded or fancifully designed ones of the past, many airlines offer plain white options.

“I think it’s going down a bit because of the lack of new bags,” said Bruce Kelly, 79, a retired correctional officer in Anchorage who maintains Kelly’s World of Airsickness Bags online. Its collection has 7,300 copies, which many enthusiasts from all over the world have come to see.

Kelly said he believed there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 baggage handlers at any one time. He doesn’t know how many are active now.

Paul Mundy, a Germany-based communications specialist who works in international relations, has nearly 2,500 bags in a collection that began out of necessity. (“Have you traveled with the toddler?” he asked a reporter with a 2-year-old. “Try it. And you’ll be interested in airsickness bags too. “) But he only takes a new bag on rare occasions. that he flies and has not updated his site, Bagophily.com, for several years.

“The problem is that collecting bags is a sedentary activity,” said Mundy, 64. “Either you’re sitting on a plane, which is bad for your varicose veins, or you’re sitting at a computer thinking stupid jokes to write on the bags and that’s sedentary too.

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The SFO Museum, part of San Francisco International Airport, has more than 600 bags from its archives available to view online. Graphic designer Henry Steiner donated a collection of 368 bags, collected during business trips.

In an email, museum registrar Tomohiko Aono said airsickness bags were a “by-product of aircraft limitations” in the early days of aviation, when planes had to fly at altitudes below 10,000 feet and were more likely to encounter poor weather and turbulence. — all contributors to motion sickness.

Even after airlines were better able to avoid turbulence, Aono wrote, the bags remained on board and sometimes served as a scorecard for card games or containers to send films to be developed. Sometimes they let an airline have a little flair.

“As to why they are popular with collectors, the sky is the limit of possible reasons, as those reasons tend to be very personal,” Megan Callan, the museum’s assistant director of affairs, wrote in an email. “But some could be: they are small and relatively easy to maintain; they are [easily] obtained as a souvenir of his trip; and they can display the evolution of aircraft and airlines, through the use of logos, service marks, and other designs.

Bag fans agree that one of the best collectibles was produced by the defunct Finnaviation, a sleek design showing the profile of a blue reindeer spitting out what looks like a pile of sugar cubes. Kelly calls him “the puking reindeer”.

“You look at it and you say, okay, I know what this is for,” said Silberberg, who lives in Saco, Maine.

A series of cartoon bags produced by Virgin Atlantic in the mid-2000s are also popular, with custom designs for certain routes the airline wanted to promote. Some include images of vomit.

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“Who said something functional couldn’t be fun?” Well, you can’t get much more functionality than the airline’s sick bag, so we decided it was time to inject some creativity into this familiar item,” the airline wrote on the back. of its bags in the series. The 20 iterations are the result of an online contest called “Design for Chunks”.

Mundy’s collection includes a bag believed to be from Air Force One, although he calls the plastic bag hidden in an envelope “very disappointing”. Not a presidential seal to be found.

Kelly is also disappointed with the smaller airlines in Alaska that don’t have bags designed.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “It could be such a prolific piece for collectors, but it’s not.”

He hopes to take a trip to parts of Africa he has not yet visited and thus add to his collection.

For Silberberg, the crush is a space shuttle bag obtained by a friend with a family connection to the space agency. The “vomit bag”, as one label calls it, includes a drawing of an astronaut in a suit.

“It’s the trophy bag!” he wrote on the site. “Can you say this bag has made my life worth living?”

Silberberg, who owns a company that takes people on fitness-focused backpacking trips, said his ownership of the airsicknessbags.com and barfbags.com domains leads to donations from people who want to purge their own collections. He calls donors or exchangers “Patrons of Puke”.

The virtual museum brought Silberberg a little fame; it’s even featured in this year’s Dull Men’s Club calendar for July. But he would really like to bring the museum to a brick-and-mortar existence.

“I don’t know if it will ever happen, but you know, one day I would love to have a one or two room museum on the freeway in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Where I sat there all day and people in their Winnebago showed up on their way to a real vacation and stopped.”

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