You’re aboard your aircraft, toasting your new acquisition with a fine Bordeaux, when suddenly, you hit turbulence. Your gorgeous white leather seats are sprayed with red.
Or your new client eagerly signs on the dotted line, with a fountain pen that leaks at altitude, right onto the armrest.
Leather is a porous medium, highly susceptible to stains from pens, greasy foods, or an inadvertent cocktail spill. While pigmented interior leather has a clear finish that acts as a stain repellent, left untreated, these liquids can find natural paths through the pores and leave deposits and hard water lines.
Your aircraft spends more time on the ground than it does flying. When parked outside and unoccupied, do its large windows let in sunlight? In Palm Springs, Miami, or even Aspen, if the window shades aren’t pulled, this can cause your upholstery – which began as a supple, jet black leather – to be worn to a charcoal grey hue. Over time, the sun’s power can bleach out color and zap out moisture, just as it does to your skin. Leather can become dried and brittle, increasing the probability of cracking, splitting, tearing, and stain absorption.
What can you do to prevent sunburn, spills, or tears, or to remediate unavoidable damage?
- Sunscreen and Protect – Commercial products like Weiman’s Leather Wipes contain a UV-15 sunscreen, and are easy for your maintenance crew to wipe on and wipe off. Consider also keeping onboard a Leather Master Anti-Aging Kit, a mild cleaner and separate protection cream. Be sure your crew tests both of these products on a hidden area first, in case of a chemical reaction. If your interior is nubuck, suede, faux (microfiber), or unprotected leather, do not use a commercial wipe or kit, as these leather types have no protective barrier and will soak up the cleaning fluid like a sponge. Protective systems for these do exist, but require a bit more technical training and application. If your upholstery becomes faded or damaged and needs restoration, professional color systems can be custom tailored and sealed with a protective finish.
- Be Open to No Pens – Of course, you and your passengers need to work during the flight. For aircraft with Wi-Fi, encourage use of tablets, computers, or dictation devices. If pens are unavoidable, use retractable ones.
- Check Spot – Most small dogs will not disturb the upholstery, unless they circle and “nest.” However, their nails can puncture the seats, and dander can wear down the finish over time. Bring your pet’s favorite blanket to protect your seats.
- Wash, Rinse, Repeat – To remove stains quickly, grab a soft cloth, directly dab the spot with light pressure, then using a clean section of the cloth, dab (not wipe or swipe) again. Often you can reduce the stain to almost nothing, then have your maintenance crew follow up, using a professional leather cleanser to flush any additional residue through to the other side.
- Keep It Together – Small tears can be temporarily “tacked” in place with a piece of duct tape on the underside of the tear (not on the topside, as adhesives can remove the finish). With a little patience and ingenuity, you can prevent a larger tear until professional help can be secured.
For liability reasons, many leather upholstery manufacturers state that nothing can be done in case of damage. However, leather is a durable material that can be cleaned, conditioned, resurfaced, and restored. In many cases, small tears and rips in the seam can be flawlessly repaired. With a few minimal supplies onboard and trained leather maintenance technicians at the ready, your leather interior can continue to be a source of pleasure and pride. Proper maintenance will keep it supple, stain-free, and protected, thus helping to maintain the value of your aircraft. BAA
Bryan Graves, master leather craftsman, is Founder and President of Hub Leather Repair & Restoration, a 25-year-old Boston-area based company which offers onsite leather cleaning, repair, and restoration for select retail and aviation clients.