Bainbridge pilot hopes to help travelers sleep easy with new invention

Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for departure. For most travelers, those words are the universal code for “Sit back and relax.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for departure.

For most travelers, those words are the universal code for “Sit back and relax.”

But relax? Anyone traveling for long amounts of time — especially on an airplane — knows just how tight, uncomfortable and unrelaxed those trips can be.

Quality sleep? Probably not happening.

No one understands that better than Bainbridge Island resident Don Linrothe, who is a United Airlines pilot by day and an entrepreneur by night. Linrothe, who commutes on a regular basis via airplane — in coach, nonetheless — said he realized very quickly how hard it was to sleep comfortably on a plane.

“When I was sitting there on all these flights, I was so afraid to fall asleep,” he said, noting a ski injury that has caused permanent neck issues. “It’s not a good sleep.”

For him, the thought of the neck pain caused by a nap mid-flight filled him with anxiety. Add in an uncomfortable chair and crotchety fellow passengers, and it’s what Linrothe equates to a miserable time.

“It’s like torture,” he said of riding in economy. “It’s a mini torture chamber, let’s face it.”

In the midst of one flight, he got up to use the restroom and realized how many of his fellow passengers looked like they were practicing weird yoga moves while attempting to sleep. Row after row, he saw heads resting on tray tables, coats crumbled as makeshift pillows and more head nods than open eyes.

To him, it looked painful. That’s when a brilliant idea hit him: ZzzBand. He immediately sketched the idea on a napkin in his cramped seat.

Unlike other products, his thoughtful invention keeps the head upright with a strap that reduces movement when attached to a headrest. The fleece material wraps around the head, similar to a headband and has a built in eye mask to block light and sound.

“In my observation, with all the flying I’ve done, it’s the only thing that works,” Linrothe said of the ZzzBand. “I want to sleep. If I can sleep, that’s what I want to do. It’s an alternative to the neck pillow.”

Last year, Linrothe partnered with Pamela Gingras to establish Departure Products LLC, with the company’s goal to sell innovative products that makes travel by air, land or sea easier. Their March launch of ZzzBand at the International Travel Goods Show in Las Vegas brought much excitement for the new entrepreneurs.

That’s when the orders started pouring in, he said.

“It’s been really pretty easy,” he said. “Our goal is to develop simple products — nothing high tech, just something that makes life a lot easier.”

Additionally, it hit the shelves of The Traveler store on Bainbridge Island for locals to purchase without having to order on sites like eBay, Amazon or other online retailers. He eventually hopes to get into airport stores, where many travelers often make a final stop for comfort items before boarding.

As of right now, he and Gingras are happy to keep the pace slow and steady. After all, it is just the two of them, he said, so growing the company organically and carefully are keys to success.

“We have a lot of fun doing what we’re doing,” he said, noting that their office is on Gingras’ moored boat she calls home.

ZzzBand is just the first of many ideas Linrothe and Gingras, president of the company, have for Departure Products. Ultimately, the avid boaters hope to create unique and useful products that will ease travel for boat lovers.

To Linrothe, the opportunities are endless, especially when it comes to developing products for activities he already loves.

“I just love the idea of having my own business,” said Linrothe. “We realize the market is unlimited.”

Not only is the band effective for use on planes, but it can be used while traveling in a car or a train, he noted. For sleepers who need a dark room at night, the band can be removed and the ZzzBand doubles as a comfortable eye mask. While the current band is black with white letters embroidered with the catchy name, customers can expect the colors palette to expand in the upcoming months, Linrothe said.

With its versatility and at a reasonable price of $19.95, the sleep mask has caught the attention of hundreds, including Kevin Harrington, known for his role in the popular television show “Shark Tank.”

Linrothe said it was flattering for Harrington to reach out to Departure Products, but at the moment, he’s unable to mass produce the invention quickly.

He hopes the opportunities keep arising, however, and he’ll meet them as he and his partner are able.

“I think the market is massive; millions of people travel each year,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the word out.”