Some frequent airline passengers pass the hours between destinations sleeping, reading or listening to MP3 tunes. Rick Berge of Faribault and Leslie Danelian of Los Angeles, in a long-distance relationship, inadvertently spent the time inventing.
Danelian began to feel a little queasy on a trip to see Berge. "I like to wear short skirts without stockings," she said, "and I felt weird about my bare legs on the seat."
They met in 2001, married in `03 and each logs 30,000 in-flight miles a year shuttling between Minnesota and California twice a month. While driving together after a reunion, they began to swap gross-out stories. Danelian talked of having to dry-clean the pashmina she'd draped over a seat (the airline had removed blankets in a cost-cutting move). Berge recounted sitting in baby formula.
The figurative overhead light went on. After Googling "airline seat covers" and coming up empty, Berge, with a background in product development, drew a seat cover design. Danelian bought some denim fabric, sewed one from a pattern and took it on her next flight. PlaneSheets, their personal airline seat covers, were about to take off.
Since launching the product in late 2005, they have sold about 5,000. Similar products, such as PlaneWrap () and TravelWrap Travel Pack () are also available.
Are airline seats dirty enough to warrant spending an average of $25, carrying the sheet on board and going to the trouble of securing it in place?
That probably depends on a person's flying frequency and tolerance for untidiness. In a J.D. Powers 2006 survey on airline cleanliness, Northwest Airlines shared the bottom ranking with US Airways. Northwest spokesman Roman Blahoski said that the airline has stepped up cleaning efforts in the past year.
While a cover may prevent stains, it offers little benefit in preventing germ transmission, said Kristen Ehresmann, head of immunizations for the Minnesota Department of Health. "Plane seats are not a source of appreciable disease transmission. Hand washing remains the best defense," she said.
Nevertheless, Berge, a bit of a germophobe who uses hand sanitizers and toilet seat covers, says that PlaneSheets keep germs at bay. He's also marketing the product for use on movie theater, bus or train seats.
Berge and Danelian say they get frequent compliments and requests when other passengers see their seat covers, and they continue to see the need for their product.
Northwest, apparently, feels different. Although PlaneSheets are sold in some editions of SkyMall catalog, including Delta, so far Northwest has not allowed ads for it in issues on their planes.
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