As if air travel weren’t bad enough…

February 23, 2008

Here come the Plane Sheets! PlaneSheets are to your jet seat what a fitted sheet is to your mattress: A slick cover that separates you from the Unknown. See? Toile!


PlaneSheets, available in coach and first-class sizes, as well as in washable (that is, shrinkable) and disposable (recyclable polypropelene) varieties, offer “today’s travelers an innovative and practical way to personalize their travel space while keeping at bay germs, crumbs and spills from previous passengers,” according to the PlaneSheets website. PlaneSheets started as a set of two homemade denim prototypes, the offshoot of the company founders’ long-distance relationship, which required many, many cross-country rides on unsanitary airborne vehicles. But, after flight attendants and other passengers saw the Sheets and wet themselves with envy, the couple decided to create droves, now available for purchase online.

Say what? Is it just me, or is this inane? Apartment Therapy doesn’t think so: “We’d just love to see someone putting these to use. They mark your seat, ‘protect’ you from the germs on the seat itself, and we’re sure they’d really make you stand out on a flight for a few reasons.” Why do you need to “stand out” on a flight? So you get peanuts before everyone else? I’m incensed.

Chalk another one up to excess, everybody. This is a TKO.


6 Responses to “As if air travel weren’t bad enough…”

  1. Jeff said

    I actually know someone that will probably buy these. She’s a little compulsive about being exposed to other people’s germs. She won’t use a public toilet, she won’t walk barefoot in a hotel room, etc. So I bet she’ll buy them. :)

  2. Jenna said

    Personally I was thinking more of all the pesticides that get sprayed in the cabins between flights (probably only international??). I wouldn’t buy special covers, but I have thought of bringing a sheet to drape over the seats – so far I’ve just made sure that I’ve got heavy long sleeves/long pants and I throw all my clothes in the wash as soon as I arrive.

    Thankfully I haven’t had to fly in a while!!

  3. Leslie said

    My husband and I created PlaneSheets during a long-distance relationship. After sitting in a sticky, wet seat at the start of my flight, (and asking for a blanket that was non-existent), I decided then and there that I would never subject myself to an unclean airline seat. I like to get to my destination feeling as good as I did when I left. Bringing a sheet to drape over the seat doesn’t really work because it is to large and cumbersome. A PlaneSheet is a perfect fit and takes seconds to put on the airline seat.

    PlaneSheets are not for everybody, but no product is. My husband and I created PlaneSheets out of our desire to feel more clean and comfortable on long flights. The fact that people around us wanted to know where they could buy one was proof that there was a niche market for our cottage industry product.

    I am proud to say that our company has sold thousands of airline seat covers to travelers all over the world. We are growing every day, and are in the beginning stages of making disposable PlaneSheets for a major airline carrier.

    People with food allergies, particulary peanuts, find PlaneSheets comforting, as do anyone with a compromised immune system. For the average traveler though, PlaneSheets Personal Airline Seat Covers simply puts a barrier between them and anything sticky, gooey, wet, smelly, itchy and, let’s face it, dirty.

  4. All: Let’s consider the manufactured fear of germs before we found “cottage industries” that turn into corporate conglomerates. As Leslie said, PlaneSheets is in the process of “making disposable [covers] for a major airline carrier.” Here I invoke all caps:


    How much waste are we willing to create to soothe far-flung phobias of the ubiquitous germ? Moreover, how many products are we willing to create in deference to the luxury of flight, once a transportation tool, now a societal given that is catered to by a proliferation of flight-specific goods?

    I think the tail is wagging the dog, here, folks. Don’t you?

  5. Jeff said

    Well, which is the dog here? You seem to be against a few things:

    Fears, or mental illness – “manufactured fear of germs” and “far-flung phobias of the ubiquitous germ”
    Corporate conglomerates – “cottage industries that turn into corporate conglomerates”
    Flight – “luxury of flight, once a transportation tool, now a societal given”
    Disposable items – “DISPOSABLE?”

    Are you really arguing that PlaneSheets has created a fear of germs? Do safety rail companies create a fear of heights? Do airbag manufacturers make you fear an accident? A phobia, according to American Heritage Dictionary is “A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.” Actually, germs can be dangerous, but assuming by your argument that they aren’t, are we to assume you don’t wash your dishes with soap after using them? Or you don’t wash your hands after going to the bathroom? Or clean your bathroom with disinfectant cleaner?

    As for corporate conglomerates, don’t forget all the conglomerates that provide you with goods and services you use every day. A conglomerate isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as a small company isn’t necessarily a good thing. I imagine you visit Starbuck’s some, are they a bad company? They work to ensure their employees have health coverage and they work to minimize impact to the environment, among other works. But they are a large corporation. And the computer you are using was built by a conglomerate, which allows you to communicate with diverse people around the world through the Internet, provided by conglomerates. So are corporations really that bad a thing?

    The comments about air travel puzzle me though. Is this really the crux of your argument? You disagree with the frequent use of air travel? A societal given? It’s a societal given if you have the money to buy the ticket. Does it really bother you that people want to fly to Hawaii or Canada or the Caribbean for a vacation?

    I agree that limiting our impact on the environment is a noble cause, and we should all strive to minimize the amount of our waste we dispose of every day, but the way to win people to your cause isn’t to put them down or the companies that make products. The old tale about being either to catch a fly with honey rather than vinegar comes to mind.

  6. Jeff,

    Thanks for these comments, particularly the question about corporations. I should have been clearer about this, as you are right; not all corporations are bad, nor is the theory behind them. Sometimes, aggregate businesses fare better in the marketplace and are more useful (to consumers, of course) than the individual small businesses alone. The Community Supported Agriculture co-op of which I’m part comes to mind. You can read more about that here.

    However, all too often, corporations do bad things. For example: Shutting out small businesses, transporting factory work — and, of course, its toxic offshoots — to countries with less stringent labor and pollution regulations, wielding the lion’s share of power over our congressional body, and hawking disposable, unsustainable products in the name of newness, ease, and comfort. Do you disagree that these examples represent the down-facing side of the corporate coin?

    This said, I will make no bones in declaiming PlaneSheets’ move to generate disposable covers for a major air co., and in challenging its industrial existence in the first place. A few questions come to mind: Where are the Sheets manufactured? Is the recyclable polypropylene cover recyclable in all communities? How about the packaging: is that recyclable, too? Is the cotton used for the washable Sheets grown and harvested in a low-impact way? And, the biggest question: Do they accomplish anything beyond allaying the fear of germs?

    A USA Today article featuring PlaneSheets says as much. This piece, which stands front and center on the PlaneSheets website, contends that “products aimed at the peripatetic germophobe seem to be multiplying as fast as bacteria in a petri dish,” but also that “medical experts say many of these products are more effective in quelling the psychological ick factor than in preventing disease.” There’s that derivation of phobos, once again — as you defined in your comment, an “irrational fear of a specific thing…despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.” I hand Leslie some kudos for her comment: she doesn’t claim outright that PlaneSheets protect anyone from contracting anything whilst aloft; she merely states that PlaneSheets can be “comforting.” (See “psychological ick factor,” per USA Today.)

    I most definitely do not argue that PlaneSheets create a fear of germs — I argue that, in their very production, they promote it. In the above comment, I asked that we “consider the manufactured fear of germs before we found ‘cottage industries'” intent on easing, and thereby confirming or validating, those fears. Yes, I agree that it is possible to catch a virus or pick up some cell-busting bacterium on an airplane. I also know that it is possible to catch and pick up those same pathogens on the bus, at the grocery store, in the office, at the park, in the home. Anywhere. Does this mean that we can justify, ethically speaking, the manufacture of disposable BusSheets? Monogrammed grocery-cart–handle sheaths? To quote the USA Today article: These and other barrier products “might protect you from a previous passenger’s gunk, but they’re unnecessary for fighting disease. ‘You’re wearing clothes,’ says [physician Brian] Terry. ‘We’re not flying [or riding, shopping, working] naked.'” Not only are these methods essentially useless in preventing disease, they do nothing more than burgeon those fears of said disease, which drive people to generate more products in the name of germ warfare, which, in turn, spike more fear of germs. Cyclical, isn’t it? And again, how much dross are we willing to produce in order to placate the psyche?

    Now, to air travel in specific. To answer your questions: Yes, I do disagree with the frequent use of air transportation. It does bother me that people want to — and do — fly to tropical climes and cultural heartlands for leisure, for business, for family. The toxics emitted by airplanes are far more detrimental than the trace bits of hair and nail that may be clinging to the airplane seat. See No Impact Man’s January post about the impact of air travel; his short list of air-bad and air-good factoids strike a nice balance between selfish and selfless, to put it generally. Overall, however, he stresses that a dramatic reduction in air travel is necessary — if we want to keep living on Earth, that is.

    But that’s not all: We live in a world in which lots of folks use air travel for its convenience — that is, they can get from Seattle to South Kensington in a matter of hours. Because this tool, flight, creates shorter pathways between long distances, it makes surmountable the physical expanse between home-home and vacation-home, between family members A and B, between worker and office.

    Gonna get a little heady, here, but I ask that you stick: As philosopher Ivan Illich puts it in Tools for Conviviality, the full text of which you can find online:

    Cars create distance. Speedy vehicles of all kinds render space scarce. They drive wedges of highways into populated areas, and then extort tolls on the bridge over the remoteness between people that was manufactured for their sake. This monopoly over land turns space into car fodder. It destroys the environment for feet and bicycles. Even if planes and buses could run as nonpolluting, nondepleting public services, their inhuman velocities would degrade man’s innate mobility and force him to spend more time for the sake of travel.

    In essence, Illich suggests that, through the convenience of swift travel, we are actually subverting our time for that travel. If it is possible for me to fly 600 miles in just over 2 hours, why not? If my “innate mobility” is expanded, I can live on a farm in Nebraska and work for a company in Japan. Of course, by expanding this mobility, by “creat[ing] distance,” am I not also wedging myself into an environmentally and temporally taxing life?

    This is the “societal given” I mentioned: the advances in quick travel that have made great distance between people a non-issue. Agreed, this is for those with money, as you said, Jeff. That is absolutely true. Global wealth, and the high concentration of it in approximately eight very small areas, contributes greatly to the proliferation and ease of air travel, specifically vacation travel. Is it truly good, truly ethically sound, to spend thousands on a leisure trip for two, when those funds could have been used to support a struggling artist or a steward of the land? I considered this in a recent post; I’m still wrestling.

    We frequently excuse environmentally unsound world travel on the grounds of cultural enrichment. But what of the culture that waits outside the back door? I’ve seen 25% of my home state, maybe. Perhaps 5% of my country. Why can’t I experience the same kind of enrichment here? Why must I go to Paris or Johannesburg or Reykjavik?

    I’m guessing that the adversarial, ad hominem tack attempts to set me as untrustworthy, or, a least, hypocritical. Whether I visit Starbucks — a pretty good corp., at least by worker-treatment standards, as you mentioned — bears nothing on my rail; to be true, I take sit-down coffee at my neighborhood java joint, Tougo Coffee Co. I wrote about them here.

    Your questions regarding my personal use of soap are clever: If I answer in the affirmative, I’m a sham; if I answer in the negative, I’m a sloven. In any case, I do use castile soap to wash my dishes, but not to rid them of germs, which they cannot do, but as agents that help break up the water’s surface tension, thereby making it possible for me to clear off the swaths of sauce that may be stuck to the plate, which I don’t want to muck up the taste and texture of my next meal. I suppose, though, that I may not need this middleman; I will look into it further. I also don’t spray my bathroom with disinfectant cleaner — I’m not keen on inhaling ammonia or bleach. Instead, I clean with baking soda and vinegar, as well as with the abovementioned castile soap. I suppose you have me with the bathroom question: I do wash after using the toilet. So, sham?

    Finally, please don’t paint me as “against…mental illness.” It’s nonsense. How is it possible to be “for” or “against” mental illness? Moreover, who mentioned mental illness?

    Thanks again, Jeff, for entering into this discussion. You’re right, of course, that I shouldn’t pick on PlaneSheets: I should let the Aero-San Traveller’s Edge seat cover–manufacturers have it as well. While it may be easier to catch that fly with honey, I think vinegar is sometimes necessary. Spit engages far faster, and often better, than sweetness.

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