Branded airline amenity kits filled with travel-sized personal care items have been handed out to business and/or first-class passengers on long commercial flights since at least the 1950s, according to the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport.
Utilitarian at first, today these containers and their posh contents have become coveted and collectible and are often designed by top designers. Here's a look at some travelers' favorite kits, past and present.
(Picture: A Pan Am World Airways amenity kit from the 1960s. "The President Special" was the name given to the airline's first-class service on several high-profile international routes.)
—By Harriet Baskas for CNBC. Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.
Posted 6 September 2014
The SFO Museum has 355 airline kits representing 57 airlines in its collection. The earliest were called "Remain Over Night" kits and produced in "his" and "hers" versions by the Airline Textile Manufacturing Company (AirTex) based in Des Moines, Iowa.
The men's kit included deodorant, aftershave, hair cream, a razor, shoe polish and a comb. The women's kit had hair spray, cleansing cream, hand cream and nail polish remover, according to the SFO Museum.
(Picture: A TWA-branded "Remain Over Night" airline amenity kit from the 1960s is on exhibit at SFO Airport through December with a wide range of other airline sleeper service amenities.)
Delta's Tumi amenity kit gets high marks from frequent travelers for both its contents and its reusability.
"It stands head and shoulders above the competition, with a good range of products, including lip balm, which is always something I forget," said John Walton at the Routehappy flight search website.
It can also "easily be reused to pack things like extra batteries or headphone cords," said Chris McGinnis, of Travelskills.com.
Singapore Airlines' Ferragamo-branded amenity kits are unusual in that they contain perfume and cologne.
Singapore Airline's Salvatore Ferragamo-branded amenity kits stand out to Paul Shrater, co-founder of the online travel-size site Minimus.biz because "not only is Ferragamo a well-known luxury brand, but the kits include travel-sized perfume and cologne, a rarity in amenity kits."
Sadly EVA Air has not created Hello Kitty-themed amenity kits to go with its fleet of Hello Kitty-themed aircraft, but when the airline introduced three brand new Boeing 777-300ERs on its North America routes in the summer of 2014, it also introduced two new colors for its sought-after Rimowa amenity kits.
Eva Air's Rimowa amenity kits come in crystal green and classic prosecco colors. Royal Laurel business-class passengers receive one color on inbound flights and the other outbound. Contents complement the shells' colors and include natural lip balm and moisturizing products by HARNN, lens-cleaning cloths and adjustable silk eye masks.
All the items in Japan Airlines' kit for first-class passengers "were perfectly color-coordinated," said Oonagh Shiel, the editor who recently led a review of almost 30 airline amenity kits for Cheapflights.com. "The toothbrush matched the hair brush and the eye mask and we didn't see another kit with a built-in hanger," which opens up possibilities for after-flight use in a hotel or at home, Shiel said.
The airline distributes a beige canvas kits on flights departing Japan and a camel corduroy version on flights headed there.
A complementary amenity kit filled with deluxe-sized, beauty, grooming and lifestyle products chosen by the sample-savvy folks at Birchbox is one of the perks included with JetBlue's upgraded, coast-to-coast Mint service introduced in June.
The kit content will change quarterly but the mix of premium sample items started off with everything from Benefit Cosmetics mascara in the women's kit to Ernest Supplies Cooling Shave Cream in the kit for men.
Finnair offers business-class passengers a minimalist, eco-friendly amenity kit that includes socks, an eye mask and earplugs packaged in a brown paper envelope. A more elaborate, but equally eco-amenity kit with items in a green tea or birch scent, is available on request.
Business-class customers on Air France now receive an amenity kit filled with Clarins cosmetics as well as mouthwash, slipper socks, toothbrush and an eye shade. Passengers in the airline's La Premiere cabins receive a leather cosmetics kit designed by Givenchy filled with skin-care products by Biologique Recherche, including face cream, an anti-fatigue roll-on for the eyes, an eye mask, lip balm, hand cream and an oshibori hand towel.
Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, gives passengers in economy, business and first-class cabins amenity kits that feature patterns of Sadou, a colorful, intricate and centuries-old Abu Dhabi weaving craft traditionally used on blankets, cushions and Bedouin tents.
In addition to the nice array of products inside the bags, "I love the fact that Etihad has invested in an authentic design for their kits, embracing their cultural roots," said Jonny Clark, a commercial pilot who evaluates airline products and design at TheDesignAir.