United Directs Flight Attendants to Stop Passengers From Stealing Pillows, Blankets

Fourteen years ago Holiday Inn offered a ‘towel amnesty’. If you’d fess up that you took towels from their hotels, you could keep them. In 2013, Hyatt started encouraging guests to steal bath amenities. Of course they meant ‘take the ones that are in your room’ and not ‘raid the housekeeping cart when a staff member walks away.’

There are limits what hotels are going to accept — some guests take carpet, curtains, light fittings, mirrors and door hinges.

Not everyone agrees with letting guests take anything. Someone was sentenced to three months for stealing two towels from a Hilton.

With United’s new Polaris business class soft product — much nicer duvet, blanket, and pillows from Saks, in particular — customers have been taking things home.

United Polaris on Display in Saks Flagship 5th Avenue Storefront, Credit: United Airlines

Live and Let’s Fly reports that United is telling flight attendants to key a watchful eye for passenger theft.

Our customers are continuing to enjoy United Polaris service, in particular our new high-quality bedding designed by Saks Fifth Avenue. However, recently we’ve noticed some confusion about which amenities may be taken off the plane at the end of the flight. We’d like to take this opportunity to clarify the policy regarding our new bedding and ask for your help to ensure its safekeeping on board the aircraft.

You can share with customers that all pillows and blankets are to be left on the aircraft at the end of each flight, including the cooling gel memory foam pillow. Even if only a small number of these items are taken off each flight, that can quickly add up to millions of dollars across our network over the course of a year. To help ensure we are able to continue offering these high-quality products, it’s important to remind customers that these items remain on board the aircraft after every flight. We will begin communicating this policy on board soon.

We launder and re-board pillows and blankets for several cycles before the product naturally degrades from wear and tear, and we replace it.

Of course, all United Polaris customers are welcome to take their amenity kits featuring Cowshed products with them at the end of the flight. Slippers and pajamas — on flights where they are offered — are also available for customers to take with them.

We are exploring offering certain amenities for sale on the United Shop in the future.

I might have certain airline blankets at home. Etihad first class blankets are the softest and most comfortable I’ve ever felt. Whenever I see and feel an airline blanket, it brings me back to the experience and makes me want to get back on board. United doesn’t feel that extending their business class marketing into your home is a worthwhile investment.

United Polaris Bedding and Pajamas

Hotel towel theft is a big deal, one hotel saves $16,000 a month by cutting down of guests taking towels (!). They attach washable RFID tags. Presumably they’re not tracking down thousands of towels leaving the hotel, just telling guests the towels are tagged is enough to keep people from stealing them.

As long as they are able to keep it a secret, they wouldn’t even need the tags — just labels or notes telling guests there are tags.

Former American Airlines Chairman Bob Crandall tells a story about just signaling that you’re watching for theft (without actually doing it):

United could just have flight attendants make an announcement that there are RFID tags in the pillows and blankets. No one will need to watch customers, and no RFID tags need to be used.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Interesting but not surprising. I was just wondering this morning if domestic US airlines actually reuse the crappy blankets on domestic flights or if they just throw them out.

  2. What is wrong with people?? Just because the polaris stuff is nicer doesn’t mean that it’s anything I would ever want in my home.

  3. I think anyone who takes a blanket from an airline, traveling in a premium cabin, is sad. Me me me.

  4. Really confused; for years, I’ve taken the crappy coach, domestic F blankets pillows when needed as I thought they were not reused on both United and Delta. Are you not supposed to do that? I would think it is obvious that taking stuff from international J and F is wrong.

  5. Call me guilty, yes guilty of stealing….stealing inspiration…from the middle seat in the back of the plane at United

  6. What an great observation! “United doesn’t feel that extending their business class marketing into your home is a worthwhile investment.” And I agree with that [him] whole heartedly! Having a nice United blanket (which I might have) on my couch builds branding loyalty. How many billions do companies spend to TRY and get their branding into your home? And here is the opportunity for United to be with you, in your home, every time you throw one of their blankets over you on a chilly night! I think they have not thought this through! Now they are directing their FA’s to be police and critically watch their business level travels to the point of accusing them of theft and demanding they “return” a (stolen?) blanket? When that happens, I think most people would be so embarrassed that it would leave a perminent bad taste of United (worse than the food) in their mouth and probably cause many to fly other airlines. Not smart United – and a huge missed business branding/loyalty opportunity!

  7. The issue for hotels losing their towels is also related to the laundry/supply services swiping them as well as guests. In many cases the laundry service also supplies the towels, so many go missing so that they can be replaced. Apparently the RFID tags have managed to fix the problem on the supplier side as well.

  8. Considering how many blankets, etc from all airlines that are listed on Ebay, why does anyone think this does not create brand loyalty is clueless. I do not have any blankets, but I give away amenity kits to family and friends, and always get asked what other goodies do we get? United is definitely not getting the big picture of free advertising and loyalty they could be receiving. The gel pillows might be $15, the blanket might be $10, so for $25, on your most exclusive service, and your best customers, United is cheaping out! Clueless!

  9. Perfect example when Finacd people just don’t make sense of the big picture

    How many millions company spend on branding and on getting into the customers face – and they come up with this ridiculous rule? They already get millions on charging us extra fees –

    Pretty much: “lower class airline – with a lower class experience – at a very high price@

  10. I want to purchase the very soft pillowcases we had on our Polaris Global first class flight from Munich to Chicago. I would appreciate any info as to where to find them.

  11. Former American Airlines Chairman Bob Crandall insists his story of reducing costs is true, but it makes no sense. How can you “put the dog on part time?” That won’t save costs. Not feeding the dog (to make it mean and growly) is cruel. Furthermore, some thieves are opportunistic and impulsive, but others plan their crimes and watch the warehouse to see if it’s guarded and what the guard’s rounds and schedules are. Those thieves would quickly realize the warehouse isn’t guarded.

  12. for the price of 1st tickets, take all the blankets and pillows you want, just sneeze into them and they wont be reusing them nor can they stop you, the tracking bs is just the money culture spreading fear which is domestic terrorism and illegal.

  13. take all the blankets you paid for and give them to the homeless this winter, tracking chips is a load of crap, plus if they’re having money problems w blankets then they certainly ain’t sending the police to pick up a blanket n pillow or anyone from the airline, bc they cant afford the blanket pick up service, globally, duh!

  14. @jason, no, airlines do not care if people sneeze into the blankets. Look around on a flight, people do sneeze into them, wrap their bare feet in them, all sorts of nasty things. Airlines just reuse them.

  15. and for the over price of the seat in first, take the blanket you overpaid for, and give your blanket to the homeless after washing, but trying to fear people out of taking them w threat of a chip or consequences is mental terrorism, if they dont have the money to give them away, lol they surely dont have the money for a blanket collection department and the police wont work on such a case bc they’re not paid enough to collect blankets, as for stealing is wrong or bad or a sin, lol, you’re not the boss of anyones life.

Comments are closed.