Skip to main content

watch your assI remember the first time I flew on an airplane. I was five, it was the winter of 1979 and we were headed to Florida. Although I was too young to get it at the time, it was an incredible trip. We stayed with old friends in Cocoa Beach, went to Disney World, saw an alligator on a golf course, ate in a very loud local restaurant where they served some famous something or other (what is the official food of Florida?), AND we woke up at 3 in the morning, drove through the night, set up chairs on a beach and watched the Space Shuttle lift off. Which, I have to admit, I found exciting in equal measure to the hot chocolate and donuts I got to eat all morning.

Anyway, back to the plane. I had the middle seat in between my brothers who had already flown several times and were taking their jobs as my guides, as usual, very seriously. In the 70’s and 80’s, one of these highlights was…drumroll, please…the barf bag.

Let’s think about the marketing ramifications of this nasty little receptacle, shall we?

  • What if you walked into a grocery store and they had a big closet with huge, full-body parkas next to a neon sign that said, ‘You are about to freeze your frickin’ ass off, so put this on!’
  • What if when you went to the car dealership, they had an exhibit featuring photos of the top accidents of the last month and a booth for life insurance and information about brain damage and paraplegia.
  • What if the entrance to the beach was flanked with burn salve, skin cancer survivors and the drowning unit of your local hospital.

Well, the minute you sat down in your seat on an airplane back in the day, you stared at a barf bag. You weren’t left to your own devices here. They left little room for doubt. The message was clear: You are going to puke. This is going to be a bumpy ride. We were reminded of all the things we didn’t want to think of the minute we got on the plane: nausea, vomit, turbulence, bad weather, bad planes, explosions, screaming babies, twisted metal on the ground. That ridiculously small paper bag, tattooed with the airline’s logo, put a bad taste in our mouths.

Some people might have interpreted it as courteous, I thought it was terrible advertising. (Well, I do now, I wasn’t that kid).

Eventually, the industry wisened up because the last time I sat down there were happy magazines and ads for wifi in the little mesh pocket in front of my seat. The airlines want us thinking about buying things, materialism, being rich and exploring the world. Much better thoughts for a much better flight – and great incentive for planning your next trip.

Take note: (and maybe this was just my experience, but) When the barf bags were there, people actually used them – I remember a few incidents clearly. But now? When was the last time you saw someone hurling in their seat on a flight?

As the seller, producer, promoter, writer you actually have substantial power to direct someone’s experience of your product, service, space. Don’t send them down the black, gooey rabbit hole decorated with signs that say ‘Welcome! Be prepared to barf!’ That’s just not how the road to paradise should be paved.

Image credit: Oskay

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Edgy Mama says:

    Yes! This is a corollary to one the first rules of journalism. Never say what something is not. As in, her SUV did not look like a large gray elephant, it looked like a…” Because no matter what you say the SUV looked like, the first image in the reader’s head is that elephant.

    Henceforth, I will call this the barf bag rule.

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    I was once next to someone who needed one. We’d been eating and drinking at a restaurant before the flight and had lost track of time. We pulled an OJ thru the airport and got to the plane just before they closed the doors. When we sat down, she said, “Not feeling too good.” I can’t remember if there was a barf bag there or not (I think they still have them, just not as visible in year’s past), but she got up to barf in the bathroom, as we were sitting right next to it anyway. The flight attendant yelled at her for delaying the flight. I said, “Lady, would you really want the alternative? I’m guessing there isn’t a passenger on this flight who wants to smell vomit the entire trip.” And that’s truly what I don’t understand about airlines–they repeatedly treat their customers like the worst garbage, and, yet, we still use their services. If someone started the Zappos of airline companies and charged $50 more a ticket, I’m pretty sure we’d all switch right away. Any takers??

  • All I can say is that this is so funny…cuz I had a dream last night about barf bags…I kid you not! I was using them to color on (and I don’t think that I was little kid ;0) and the weird guy next to me was using them as something to blow into.
    Next blog: all sorts of weird shit that you can use barf bags for ;)

    I love your writing…my goal is start commenting!
    Signed: secretly lurking over here;)

  • Andi says:

    OK this is totally not the point of the post but I can’t resist. I have never ever needed a barf trip until one faithful trip I took from Geneva to Barcelona in which the turbulence was so bad that, yes I barfed and I was so THANKFUL for that bag. Then while landing in Paris almost 2 weeks ago there was a gain super bad turbulence (really normally this does not bother me) and I looked into the pocket in front of me because I was feeling queasy, and you know what…there was no bag! And I was freaking out (quietly, inside my head) because what was I going to do if I barfed??!! But in the end, we landed, and I was fine – but man I am thinking I might have to add a bag to my carry on items (hee-hee)!

Leave a Reply