Airline blankets not cleaned, workers claim

Reuters Health

NEW YORK, Nov. 20 (Reuters Health) - Before you snuggle up to that airline blanket during your next flight, perhaps you should think again. It may be carrying a cargo of disease-causing bacteria and fungi, according to workers at a major airline laundry service.

According to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), workers at Royal Airline Laundry Services - which provides laundry services for more than 150 carriers in the US - are instructed to repackage used airline blankets and headphones without cleaning them and then ship them back to the airlines for passenger use.

UNITE claims that "a sampling of blankets, pillowcases and headphone were obtained from several of the largest airline companies in the world and were submitted to laboratory analysis which revealed the existence of pathogens and potential pathogens."

At a press conference held by UNITE at Washington, D.C.'s National airport Monday, union spokesman David Sailer told Reuters Health, "We're asking airlines as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate standards of cleanliness."

Also attending the rally were representatives from the Association of Flight Attendants.

"Many times the blankets that passengers get on aircrafts are wrapped in plastic and give the impression that they are fresh from the laundry service and are clean," Patricia Friend, president of the Association, told Reuters Health.

"In fact they aren't clean, they have just been folded up and put back in plastic."

Royal Airline Laundry Services strongly denies these claims. In a statement, the company categorically denied "the baseless allegations in UNITE's press release," claiming that it is "a transparent attempt to force various companies to grant the union recognition at a number of non-union locations where employees have indicated their desire not to be part of the laundry union."

Royal Airline Laundry Services intends to commence a libel action against UNITE for what it calls its "false and malicious allegations."

The FAA was unaware of the press conference that was taking place in the nearby airport. "This particular issue is not one that has been brought to our attention," Les Dorr, spokesperson with the FAA told Reuters Health. But he added that, "if some kind of scientific data is brought to our attention we would certainly look at it."

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