Washington - It's Ephi Zlotnitsky's foray into airline travel that got my attention. Zlotnitsky is not only an example of the rich contributions that immigrants bring to America. His is also a tale of the thankless frustrations that go with building a business.
And what with all the horror stories about fights, riots, even scorpions, on the airlines recently, I thought Zlotnitsky's little project to bring peaceful sleep to airline travelers was timely. The entrepreneur has helped invent an airplane pillow with the kitschy name of JetComfy.
JetComfy reminds me of those wacky late-night ads hawking offbeat contraptions like the Veg-O-Matic, Pocket Fisherman and Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler.
"I wasn't the brightest guy," said Zlotnitsky, who was born and raised 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. "But I've always been this guy who was thinking outside the box. I don't believe in 'no.' "
This anecdote is from when he was a teenager: "We were driving in a car at night in the middle of nowhere in Israel and a belt broke in our car. We couldn't see anything.
"The driver looks at me and said, 'We are stuck here.' I said 'I am breaking the mirror.' I told him to turn on the headlights and shine from one mirror to another. We managed to fix the belt and drove back home. From that day, people came to me to fix stuff."
His latest mission is fixing sleep problems for travellers.
The airspace for plane pillows is as crowded as the skies. The horseshoe pillow has been around for decades. A former Virgin Atlantic flight attendant, a few years back, invented a J-shaped pillow.
"Airlines are cramming you in and there is less space and less everything," he said. "At least you want to sleep normal."
Zlotnitsky and a business partner have invested three years and $350 000 to create the JetComfy. The pillow is the size of a purse.
About 10 000 units have been sold since it went on sale in January. Zlotnitsky said he has plans to open the first JetComfy comfort sales center in Dulles International Airport in August and hopes to expand to 25 locations at larger airports in a year.
The pillow is available now on Amazon Prime and at Luggage Plus stores and will be offered online by Walmart later this month.