Hey, aviation isn't all glamour.
"We refer to these as 'motion discomfort containers,' " says Bob van der Linden, associate curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, as he riffles through a box of the paper and plastic artifacts. "But people make jokes and call them 'barf bags' -- probably because of embarrassment about their function."
There are 150-odd examples, currently in storage, including plain vanilla versions from Eastern Bloc carriers, colorful red and green paisleys from Air India, a bizarre KLM Royal Dutch Airlines bag with a picture of "Dusty" the kangaroo -- pouch open -- with the slogan: "For a Clean Feeling."
"The containers were far more important at one time than they are now," explains van der Linden. "Today's aircraft have pressurized cabins and fly smoothly at high altitude. But early planes like the Ford Tri-Motor flew below 18,000 feet, where most of the weather occurs. They were noisy and bounced around a lot, so motion sickness was a real problem. Airline passengers had to be a hardy breed."
In more recent years -- with in-flight upsets less frequent -- airlines sometimes have glossed over the containers' primary purpose.
Consider, for instance, the TWA version that triples as an envelope for sending film to be developed and a gin rummy score pad.
Or the one from Continental with a cartoon dog eyeing a mammoth bone. There's only a "remote" chance you might have to use the bag for motion sickness, the printed message cheerfully assures, so why not take something home for Bowser?
"P.S.," it concludes. "Cats love our food, too."