Pass the Swiss sick bag

Elegant sick bags from Alitalia and Saudi Arabian Airlines Eliane Häfliger

No one knows more about making papers bags for airsick passengers than Bernese company Elag, the global market leader which sells some 75 billion “gag bags” a year. A book shows off some of its most beautiful products. 

This content was published on June 24, 2020 - 13:12
Eliane Häfliger and Sara Aurelia Eggel (images), Ester Unterfinger (picture editor and text),

Fredy Thürig collects sick bags. He has in fact collected about 2,000 of them, and his hoard has now been honoured in the book Für ReisekrankeExternal link (for ill travellers). It contains colourful examples from 45 years of graphic design and aviation history: bags from all over the world, from American Airlines to Air Nepal. 

Some designs are functional and intended for a specific purpose, others try to help passengers escape boredom with puzzles. In the 1980s “dual use” bags were popular – if you didn’t throw up in them, you could use them to send holiday films. Budget airlines tried to cheer up nauseous passengers with comments like “Everything will be fine” or “Thanks for your criticism”.

The authors accompany each image with a description of what food was on offer, helping readers to picture both the filling and emptying of stomachs.

More than 100 airlines use Elag’s individually designed sick bags. The company was founded in 1956 by Robert Elsässer, who invested in new folding and sealing techniques which made it possible to produce “vomit-tight” bags. 

The flexible bag was a welcome alternative to the traditional tin cans and cardboard boxes. It takes up less space, is much lighter, requires less energy to produce and results in less waste. 

In 1974, Elag launched an airsickness bag measuring 125x80x237mm, which became the worldwide standard.

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