How Often Do Airlines Wash Their Blankets and Pillows

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When a passenger thinks of the risks of flying, what comes to mind? Engine failure? Pilot error? Hijacking? How about whether or not airlines wash blankets? The cleanliness of airline blankets is questionable, since they’re often chock full of germs, bacteria and even baby poop. Here’s the dirt on the cleanliness of airline blankets.

Do Airlines Wash Blankets?

Airline blankets have a well-deserved reputation for being dirty. They’re hardly ever washed and are often reused by a slew of different passengers. Investigative reporters from the Wall Street Journal even discovered that most airlines only cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days.

On the magical day after the blankets are actually cleaned, during the first flight of the day, the blanket will be in pristine condition. However, for anyone else on the hundreds and hundreds of flights after that, the blankets will become nastier and nastier.

Snuggly Airplane Blanket

What are Airline Blankets Made Of?

In the plane’s coach section, passengers are provided with nondescript, red or blue blankets made of a spun polyester material called fleece. These blankets are generally thin and don’t provide much coverage. They can be as small as 30 inches by 48 inches but are typically 50 inches by 40 inches.

By Federal law, the blankets are chemically treated to be flame retardant. Otherwise, there are no industry standards for blankets.

If you’re fortunate enough to fly business class or first class, the blankets are much nicer. They may be high thread-count, luxury items from upscale brands such as Saks, Casper and White or Westin Hotels.

One well-known airline provides unique, sustainable blankets made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles for its economy class. The bottles are recycled into plastic chips, which are transformed into yarn and then woven into blankets.

How are Airline Blankets Washed?

Airline blankets are either washed at an industrial laundry facility that is contracted by the airline or washed at their own home-base airport.

Are Sealed Airline Blankets Clean?

Blankets that are provided in a sealed cellophane wrapper are generally considered to be untainted. However, this isn’t a guarantee. Lab testing on sealed blankets from a popular airline revealed yeast, mold and high counts of bacteria.

Although the airline claimed that each blanket was washed and resealed before being given to a passenger, their cleanliness was questionable.

Washing machines

Laundry employees from another airline disclosed that they washed only 20 percent of the blankets, which were the ones with distinct stains. The rest were repackaged for subsequent flights, and no disinfectants were used.

This means that passengers could share the drool, sweat and other stomach-churning substances from countless people before them.

Do You Have to Pay for a Blanket?

Some airlines no longer provide complimentary blankets in economy class on domestic flights. This means either curl up in the fetal position to stay warm, or shell out some cash for a blanket. Typically, blankets cost about $8 to $25.

However, some people don’t like this idea. 

On a flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu in 2017, a Hawaiian Airlines passenger became so agitated over the price of a $12 blanket that the plane had to be diverted and landed in Los Angeles.

The reasons for eliminating free blankets varied. One airline said it was eliminating blankets because it was “sanitation-related” and they wanted to prevent the spread of illness. Another claimed “it was not part of their business model.”

Reporter Shannon Buggs, of the Houston Chronicle, dug a little deeper and discovered that, “our accountants are enjoying extra cash on the balance sheet.”

The spokesperson added that the lack of blankets equaled faster cleanups and faster turnarounds between flights. Without blankets, they reasoned, the planes would also be lighter, which would boost fuel savings. 

Can I Bring My Own Blanket Onto a Plane?

The good news is that passengers can bring their own blankets with them if they distrust the airline’s blankets. It’s the best way to be completely sure of a blanket’s cleanliness.

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) permits passengers to either check their blanket in their luggage or tote it with them in a carry-on. Passengers can even board their flight with a blanket slung over their arm like a coat.

This is because a blanket isn’t considered to be a personal item. Personal items include purses, laptops and briefcases. A blanket is not classified as a personal item, but rather an item like a hat or a jacket that can simply be carried onboard, hassle-free.

Passengers who bring their own blankets, however, should wash them after every flight, since the air and surfaces inside a plane are often unclean.