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Pass the Barf Bag If You're Not Going to Use It


You see that hat, right? It's perched on the head of Niek K. Vermeulen, who snagged the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of sick bags (6,290) on Feb. 28, 2012. Iris Schneider/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image
You see that hat, right? It's perched on the head of Niek K. Vermeulen, who snagged the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of sick bags (6,290) on Feb. 28, 2012. Iris Schneider/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

When most of us imagine a fun day at the museum, you might see yourself staring down Mona Lisa and her mysterious mouth. Or perhaps you'd like to spend hours on the Internet, clicking through pictures of paper bags that people are meant to vomit into.

You are in so much luck.

Because it turns out that — as the old adage goes — one person's barf bag is another person's all-consuming hobby. And collection is only one part of it, because several hobbyists have made it their mission to create curated, online museums for the air sickness bags of past and present.

That sick bag wasn't made for the airlines but rather by an artist on the occasion of the royal wedding.
That sick bag wasn't made for the airlines but rather by an artist on the occasion of the royal wedding.
PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Consider KellysAirSicknessBags.com, run by Bruce Kelly of Alaska. As of Feb. 15, 2016, 6,438 air sickness bags are in the collection, with a whopping 1,364 airlines represented. While not all the bags can be viewed online, there are 5,541 images downloaded to browse through.

Steven J. Silberberg's AirSicknessBags.com also has an impressive 2,789 bags to look at. In fact, you can find loads of other sick bag collectors around the world, who post their collections online for all.

So why sickness bags? Steve "Upheave" Silberberg wrote in an email that he started in the late '80s on a boring, near-empty flight. "I looked in the seat back and thought, 'I'll bet nobody collects these,'" he says.

And the silliness of collecting air sick bags isn't lost on him.

"The idea of collecting anything is actually kind of useless, so as long as I'm engaged in a useless endeavor it might as well be an absurd one," he says.

While you might think that you're just looking at boring paper bags that are a dime a dozen in any airplane cabin, the bags themselves can be quirky, beautiful — even historical. Consider Delta's 1965 bag, which even included a fun quiz.  (Note that only 542 airports in the U.S. had regular airline service at the time.) Then there are some that are so gaudy they might actually inspire gagging. You can even find an "emesis" bag from a space mission.

But will collectors soon be forced to look harder to fill the walls of their virtual museums? Some air sickness bag collectors whisper that the bags are disappearing, as this Slate article acknowledges. (For the record, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, a major U.S. carrier, emailed assurances that the bags were still standard-issue in every seat back.)

Silberberg isn't too worried that sick bags will ever fully disappear. A "single 'event' without a receptacle could have serious cost ramifications for the airline that didn't provide them," he points out.