Did You Use an Antimacassar Today Aboard the Airplane?

Upon reading the title, someone might have thought that he or she is a peaceful person who does not want any trouble; and is therefore anti-massacre — but the word is antimacassar. Have you used one today?

Did You Use an Antimacassar Today Aboard the Airplane?

An antimacassar is a small piece of cloth which is placed over the back of a chair or seat to protect it from grease and dirt — usually from the oils of hair when the backs of the heads of people lean against them — or it can be simply used as a decorative ornament.

The name is derived from a product which was popular during the early 1800s and was known as macassar oil. Men often used it in their hair; but it would soil the material used as upholstery on the backs of chairs as their heads rested against them — so their wives would use cloths which were easily washed to cover the fabric on the backs of the chairs to prevent them from being ruined. Armrests were sometimes covered as well for their protection.

The cloth was eventually known as an antimacassar — that is, against the macassar oil — during the middle of the nineteenth century. Not only was it known for its practical purpose of protecting the backs of chairs, sofas, couches, and other types of seating from being permanently stained; but it eventually also became a fashion statement decorated with custom designs stitched into it.

Airlines — as well as other modes of public transportation — use antimacassars to protect the material on the backs of the seats aboard their conveyances and extend the life of that part of the upholstery. That means that the material of the seat — whether it is fabric or simulated leather — does not need to be replaced as often, which saves the airline money over the long run.

Seoul to Shanghai China Eastern Airlines

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Some airlines use antimacassars for advertising revenue instead of for aesthetic purposes — such as the one aboard this Airbus A330 airplane operated by China Eastern Airlines, where I had the privilege of having this advertisement in Chinese in my face for at least 15 consecutive hours from Shanghai to New York.

China Eastern Airlines Shanghai to New York

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

That particular antimacassar covered an electrical outlet for which I searched so that I can plug in my laptop computer. Fortunately, I spotted a faint red dot which seemed to be glowing from underneath the antimacassar, indicating to me as to the location of the electrical outlet.


Most passengers do not even give a second thought to the antimacassars on the backs of their seats. After all, when was the last time you heard a fellow passenger approach his or her seat aboard an airplane and exclaim, “Well, I do declare! What a marvelously stunning antimacassar! I think I will pack it with the towel I pilfered from the hotel where I stayed last night and take it home as a souvenir!”?

If you think I am full of sheet pertaining to this often overlooked piece of cloth, simply use the word antimacassar as a search term in your Internet browser — but you will likely find the word and its definition in your trusty dictionary.

By the way, watch out: that aglet of yours is floating in that mystery liquid on the floor of the lavatory — and you should know that your epidermis is showing…

All photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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