Airsick Bags and Prevention

by Kim Hemmert

What does an airsick puke bag and child abuse prevention have in common?

This isn’t the start of a bad joke. Picture this- you’re 10,000 feet above ground, peacefully gliding through the air in a metal tube, also known as an airplane. Maybe you’ve a frequent flyer and have traveled hundreds of times before. You’re a pro and this is old hat. Maybe this is your first flight. You have no idea what to expect and have never experienced turbulence before. Either way, you look in the seat back pocket in front of you and find an airsick bag. How convenient and thoughtful. This little puke bag has huge implications.

Let’s dive deeper into airplane statistics. There are about 6,000 commercial airplanes in the US fleet and about 30,000 flights a day. The average airplane holds 100-400+ passengers. You do the math! That’s A LOT of people flying every day. According to one study, about a quarter of travelers’ experience airsickness, which can include nausea, but only 0.5% reported vomiting. If you’ve ever flown next to someone vomiting on a plane or have experienced airsickness yourself, you probably have more appreciation for that little bag.

Now imagine NOT having that little airsick bag. If you are on a plane and don’t have access to an airsick puke bag, what are you going to do?

Puke on your neighbor?

Vomit into your carryon bag?

Attempt to make it to the restroom in time and hope that it’s vacant?

Hold it in and don’t vomit?

Come on, be real.

While the airsick bag was invented in 1949 and was originally designed to hold food (like a doggie bag), it didn’t become standard across the industry until 2010 when Northwest Orient Airlines merged with Delta.

Ever wonder why?

The airline industry is estimated to be worth 841 BILLON dollars annually. Imagine how much time and money were spent cleaning up vomit from airplanes. Depending on the severity of the incident, flights could be delayed, canceled and out of commission until necessary and professional cleaning was complete. Thus, creating ripple effects such as compensating passengers who were unable to reach their destinations, pilots and flight attendants unable to work, costing the airlines enormous amounts of money in damages.

Time for more math! If the average flight has 250 people and 0.5% of people vomit, that equals about one person per flight. To replace one airsick bag per flight at $0.15, times 30,000 flights a day, times 365 days a year, it costs the airline industry 1 MILLION dollars a year. That is a 0.000000013% investment in prevention to avoid flight delays, cleaning costs, and large compensation payouts.

So, what? What does this have to do with child abuse prevention? We as a tax paying nation spend $80,000,000,000, or $80 BILLION dollars a year on direct and indirect costs of child maltreatment. This ranges from foster care and residential treatment, court fees, therapies, involvement in criminal justice systems, long term negative health outcomes, substance use, mental illness, and more.

We’ve got to do better! Investing in upstream prevention of child abuse and neglect is a small price to pay that yields big rewards. Think of it as a long-term investment. A seven-year study from Healthy Families America found that for every $1.00 spent on home visiting, there was a $3.16 return on investment for families involved in child welfare. The Heckman equation found a 13% return on investment for high quality birth-to-five education. What does it look like? It means children experience fewer ACEs, have greater school success, decreased maternal depression, reduction in alcohol use, better jobs and economic earning potential, reduced use of public assistance, increased positive childhood experiences and better long-term mental health outcomes. Investing in upstream prevention is good for business, taxpayers, communities and families!

How do we invest in prevention? The CDC proposes 5 ways to prevent child abuse and neglect; 1- Strengthen economic supports to families, 2- Change social norms to support parents and positive parenting, 3- Provide quality care and education early in life, 4- Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development, and 5-Intervene to lessen harms and prevent future risk. If you’re a business you can implement policies that support families and reduce stress, use corporate sponsored events to inform employees about community services, encourage federal and state policy makers to promote family friendly policies, support community-based home visiting programs, become a HOPE informed and HOPE centered workplace.

The four building blocks of HOPE or Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences are Relationships, Environments, Social and Civic Engagement, and Emotional Growth. Whether you are a business, social service agency, or an individual passionate about the well-being of children and families, the time is now to get involved. Prevention is possible and children and families are worth it.

Our work at the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund (ICTF) promotes the building blocks of HOPE and the five Protective Factors which are: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children, and concrete support in times of need. These Protective Factors and building blocks of HOPE promote optimal development so individuals and communities thrive.

Just like the airline industry invests in upstream prevention with airsick bags, we can do more to invest in upstream prevention of child abuse and neglect to strengthen children and families. Prevention is possible and upstream prevention benefits everyone! If you would like to know more about programs and organizations founded in the protective factors and HOPE, or want to get involved, contact the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund.


Turner M, Griffin MJ, Holland I. Airsickness and aircraft motion during short-haul flights. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2000 Dec;71(12):1181-9. PMID: 11439716.,to%205%2C791%20aircraft%20in%202021.,the%20most%20affected%20businesses%20worldwide.,benefits%20for%20families%20and%20society.