Some might think it a sick hobby, but a University of Florida anthropology professor has more than 100 barf bags, all unused, collected from airlines around the world. Dangling from the bulletin board in George Armelagos' office are air sickness bags of varying sizes, designs and colors. He studies them, just as he studies other aspects of different societies.
"All artifacts of a culture give clues about a way of life," he said. "Barf bags, which after all represent food and sickness, should be no different."
There are vast differences in the bags, he says. The British Airways bag, for example, gives matter-of-fact and proper instructions: "If used for air sickness, please hand to the cabin crew for disposal."
"In other words, don't leave it on the seat," Armelagos said.
Armelagos' favorite bag, from KLM Airlines, depicts a kangaroo throwing up in his pouch, with the words: "For a clean feeling."
Air Afrique's barf bag is decorated with gold masks, Aero Peru's with archaeological-type symbols. Eastern's has brown flowers.
"One of the biggest problems in collecting barf bags now is that more and more airlines are starting to use generics," Armelagos said. "I feel cheated when I get on a plane and find the same barf bag that I saw on some other flight."
Even if they are never used, barf bags can be important as souvenirs. Armelagos's collection includes samples from such defunct airlines as Frontier and People's Express.
"Not only are these names important from a historical perspective, but how else could you prove that you took a trip?" he said.