Question: What is the most important thing about a barfbag?

Answer: Depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to regurgitate your last meal, you're probably hoping that it is free of leaks that can cause unpleasantness and embarrassment. However, if you're a bagophile, the absence of leaks is secondary. You're probably more interested in the presence of an airline logo on the bag.

Ever notice how airline advertisements never tell you the truth? They never tell you that as a passenger you'll be cooped up in a metal tube with 200 other people for the next twelve hours, that the food is awful, the stewardesses never the same as the ones in the advertisement, the seats are uncomfortable, you won't have enough legroom, the person sitting next to you is overweight and snores, and that if you do manage to get some sleep, the captain will wake you up with an announcement detailing your flight path over Romania.

No, instead, they emphasize the positives: the wonder of powered flight, the quality of the on-board service (only in first class, mind you), the quality and efficiency of their cabin staff, the exotic nature of their destinations.

Barfbags play a role in this deception. Airlines (at least non-US ones) love to distract their passengers by decorating their bags with birds, animals or plants. Some are even identifable as real species -- my collection contains over 40 different species.

Then there are the bags that emphasize flying (planes), luxury (crowns), geography (flags, national colours) and exotic destinations (cultural artefacts). I still haven't come across a barfbag that emphasizes either the quality of the food (how about printing the menu on the bag?) or the beauty of the cabin crew (how about a picture of a smiling stewardess holding a bag, saying "I'm Baggia, fly me"?).

Ornithology

Birds are understandably popular, but most are too stylized to recognize.

  • However, the discerning bagophile can readily identify eagles (Accipitidrae): see White Eagle Aviation, LADE and Bouraq (although the bouraq was actually the winged steed that took the Prophet Muhammad to heaven).
  • Seagulls (Laridae) are also common: see Air Seychelles, Silk Air and Volare.
  • Falcon Aviation features Falco sp. So do Gulf Air and Egypt Air -- which switched from roses (Rosa sp.).
  • AirOne (left) has a stork (Ciconiidae), although "airone" means "swallow" (Hirundinidae) in Italian.
  • Air Niugini has a bird of paradise (Paradisaeidae).
  • Quyat Erp has (at a stretch) a duck (Anatidae).
  • Among the airlines named after birds that choose not to feature their mascots on their bags are Garuda (eagle) and Merpati (dove).

Zoology

  • Qatar Airways has the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) as its mascot.
  • Caledonian and British Caledonian both have lions (Felis leo).
  • Predictably, Qantas has kangaroos (Macropodidae) bullet Doggy bags all feature humankind's best friend (Canis familiaris).
  • Viva Air advertises snails (Molluscae)
  • Both Iberworld (left) and Eurocypria have starfish (Asteroidea).
  • Meridiana's bag looks remarkably like a swarm of jellyfish (Coelenterata)
  • My favourite bag, Finnaviation, shows a barfing reindeer (Rangifer) -- or is it a moose (Alces alces)?

Botany

  • Both Saudi Arabian and Somali Airlines feature date palms (Phoenix dactylifera).
  • Air Canada and Canada 3000 have maple leaves (Acer sp.).
  • Air Madagascar (left) has the traveller's palm (Ravenala madagascariensis).
  • Aer Lingus has shamrocks (Trifolium dubium).
  • A pretty bag from Skyways features an orchid (Orchidaceae).

Mythology

  • Yeti Airlines has yeti footprints (Latin name sadly not given by my dictionary).
  • I've also been unable to trace the Latin name of Yangon Airways' flying elephant. Elephas volens, perhaps?
  • Goodness knows what Myanmar Airways International's combination of a horse, elephant, fish and dragon would be called. Equelephas pisces subspecies draco?

Anthropology

  • Strangely, people feature on relatively few bags. Harlequin's joker is a rare exception -- and he isn't throwing up.
  • Some, like Air New Zealand, display hands disposing of litter in the bag.
  • Emirates has Homo kilroyus (left, so named by Steve Silberberg).
  • Several Nepali bags (Sita, Skyline, Yeti, Buddha) show a sari-clad woman, complete with bindi (red spot on the forehead), nosestud and earrings, spewing dried chapatti into a bag.
  • The most realistic portrayal I've come across is on a film bag, Mark of the Devil.

Aviation

Surprisingly few airlines actually put a plane on their bag (Aerosweet (left), Martinair, XJAL).

The problem with this is that realistic portraits of planes are readily identifiable: you wouldn't expect to see a picture of a 747 jumbo on a plane made by Boeing archrival Airbus. So airlines tend to rely on abstract portrayals:

  • Tailfins (Air Columbus, Egyptair, Air Nauru, Shorouk, Transavia),
  • Tiny silhouettes of planes (AeroLloyd, Air Slovakia, Hamburg Airlines),
  • Wings (Air Berlin, Air Zimbabwe)

The act of flying is also represented by clouds (Eurowings, Swissair, Sabena), vapour trails (Dan Air), arrows (Austrian Airlines) and flying ribbons (British Airways).

Putting even an abstract plane on a bag precludes the use of the bag for land or sea transportation.

Archaeology

Artefacts adorn many bags. These can refer to:

  • Luxury (such as the crown favoured by KLM, Monarch and Royal Jordanian).
  • An exotic destination: masks (Air Afrique, left), or the weapons favoured by local people (Oman Air, Gorkha Airlines, Saudi Arabian). No, I don't know of a bag that shows a Kalashnikov.

Geography

A small number of bags subtly refer to the joys of finally arriving at your destination and getting out of the plane. So they show things like the sun (Corsair, National Airlines) or the stranded starfish you'll find when you finally stagger onto the beach (Eurocypria).

Another category refers back to the country of origin. But they can't show a particular place -- a picture of Big Ben would be out of place on a British carrier whose main aim is to transport people away from Britain's miserable weather. So they show flags, parts of flags, or the national colours (Air France, Air UK, Air Malta, Balkan, Crossair).

A third category refers to the act of travelling: compass roses (Varig, Mandala, Sun Country) and globes (Pacific Airlines, Continental). I don't know of a airline bag that shows a map, though the Tranz Scenic railbag (left) does.

Typography

A bit of a cop-out. Some airlines rely on logotypes to carry their corporate identity. These can be:

  • Single letters (like Monarch's crowned M (left), or Alitalia's A).
  • Acronyms (British Midland, FTI, Hapag Lloyd, KLM).
  • The complete airline name (Air Transat, Austral, Braniff, Bulgarian Air Charter, Buzz, Emirates).

Finally, ever noticed that some airlines have two versions of their logos: one for each side of the plane's tailfin? The logos are mirror images of each other, and the bird, animal or whatever never faces the back of the plane. This means that you can always tell which way a plane is going by looking at the tailfin.

But bag designers haven't picked up on this: I don't know of a single bag that has a mirror image of the corporate logo on the reverse of the bag.