What REALLY Happens to Those Airplane Blankets and Pillows?

Comfort has a price—and it could be at the expense of your health.

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Getting on an airplane for a long flight is stressful. By the time you get through security, to the gate, and then on the long line to board, you’ve likely already had enough. So when you spot your seat with your airline-issued pillow and blanket, it may seem like the clouds have parted and the sun is shining. Relaxation is on the way.

Or is it? It might not be if you knew the truth about those blankets and pillows. They may not be as clean as you think, and in fact, they could be teeming with germs and bacteria from the many travelers who used them before you. According to flight attendants, some airlines don’t provide new or even clean pillows and blankets for the next round of passengers. So before you settle in and snuggle into them, you need some essential information. And while you’re at it, don’t miss these other things that you should never do on an airplane.

So, what’s the deal?

Each airline has its own policy on this issue. While some choose to reuse their inventory after each flight, others have chosen onetime-use options. And, as you’ve probably noticed, still others don’t offer the amenity at all. However, a majority of those that do offer reused blankets and pillows assure travelers that they are properly laundered.

On Delta, for example, the “pillowcases and blankets are laundered after each use, so they’re clean and fresh,” says Savannah Huddleston, who works for the company’s corporate communications department.

JetBlue has chosen not to jump into the laundry game for its Core segment of travelers. Instead, they allow customers to purchase a brand-new pillow and blanket on board if they so desire.

However, the company does provide pillows and blankets for VIP passengers, free of charge. “Customers flying in Mint, our refreshing take on a premium travel experience, get custom-made pillows and blankets that are collected and laundered freshly between uses,” says Julianna Bryan, who works in corporate communications for JetBlue. Here are the 12 golden rules for stress-free air travel.

Where are these items washed?

According to Lonely Planet, there are two options. They’re either washed at an industrial facility via a laundry service that is contracted by the airline, or they are laundered at the airline’s home-base airport. By the way, here’s why you should never take off your shoes on an airplane.

How can you tell if they’re clean?

Airline spokespeople note that if the pillows and blankets are wrapped in plastic, they have the seal of approval from the airline as far as cleanliness goes. If they aren’t, they could have very well been folded and put away in between flights without a proper cleaning. Maybe it’s time to BYOB(lanket).

But really, should I use them?

If you’re comfortable with the idea and they meet the above criteria, go for it. But according to travel experts, the best thing to do is to purchase your own airplane pillow and a lightweight blanket. They don’t take up too much room in your carry-on luggage, and at least you know where it’s been. Here are a few other ways to avoid picking up germs on a flight.