No recent story has generated more hate mail than my investigation of hotels that dont change their sheets between guests.
I use the term investigation lightly, since the topic was so well-covered by my colleagues that I simply reviewed some of the previous articles, told a few of your stories, and added my two cents which is that a vast majority of hotels always change their sheets.
That didnt go over very well with some of my readers.
You apparently fancy yourself a crusading journalist a la Woodward and Bernstein, scolded one hotel executive. In fact, youre at the vanguard of your own self-styled movement of coach-potato journalism.
The executive went on to say that the sheet-changing story was nothing more than a myth, and berated me for not including any examples.
I have worked in the lodging industry for 35 years and have never repeat, never heard of a hotel, whether a budget or luxury establishment, that didnt change its sheets between guest stayovers.
Im not going to embarrass this executive by naming him in my story because, it turns out, hes wrong. But he makes a valid point. Why didnt I include any real stories from hotel guests? And why not let someone from the industry address this issue?
Well, I did. In the online version, I linked back to a story on my site in which a woman complains about unchanged sheets on her bed. But it happened at a budget motel, where, as I say in the story, these things are thought to take place from time to time.
So was that just a single incident that made for an interesting story? Hardly.
Carolyn Golaszewski, a flight attendant for a major airline, wrote to me after the story appeared to say the dirty-sheets problem was widespread.
Over my career, Ive stayed in many a room that were not clean, she told me. Sometimes our layovers are less than nine hours, so theres no time to mess a room up. Its still disgusting that I may be sleeping in a bed not made over. So to make sure its cleaned correctly I strip the bed Ive slept in. I know it doesnt help me, but at least the next guest hopefully gets clean sheets.
Michael Lynch, another hotel executive with more than three decades of experience, said the dirty sheets are likely just housekeeping errors, and arent done intentionally. And they can happen anywhere, no matter what type of bedding or hotel.
It is, and always will be, buyer beware, he added. No industry can provide a 100 percent guaranteed clean product to its customer base. This is true from apple orchards to zebra ranchers.
How about an example? Im working on a changed-sheet case right now that is so disgusting I cant bring myself to publish all of the details. (Warning: If you are easily offended, stop reading now.) It comes to me by way of reader M.A. Schulman, who was a recent guest at a full-service hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla.
I arrived close to midnight, and after unpacking, getting everything ready, I pulled back the sheet on the bed and there was a brown substance resembling human feces down the middle of the sheet, he says.
In fact, it was human feces.
I called the front desk and explained this. Whoever answered said they would send someone up to take care of the problem. A few minutes later, a maintenance person showed up, dropped sheets, and left. I asked but they refused to change them, he added.
Folks, it doesnt get any worse than that.
I sent the angry hotel executive this letter and the links to my previous story, along with a polite explanation that essentially said I didnt harbor any fantasies about being the next Woodward or Bernstein. (Actually, I dont fancy myself as anything more than someone who helps consumers, but thats beside the point.)
His reply was far more polite.
I understand that we in the hospitality industry sometimes fall short of the mark, he admitted. However, it is helpful to remember that every day, tens of thousands of rooms in this country are cleaned by people who are proud of their work and graciously hospitable to their guests.
Also, he said housekeepers work long hours at low pay, yet still manage to bring a lot of care and enthusiasm to the job.
But my conclusion is the same: While an overwhelming number of hotel beds are changed between guests, theres always a chance your sheets will be recycled or worse.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com, or troubleshoot your trip through his website, www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.