Airline Safety Cards – an interesting history

10 Feb 2017

As commercial airlines rarely come equipped with ejection seats and parachutes, it became (we imagine) clear to provide instructions on what procedures to follow in the event of an incident. Now, doubtless due to the various language barriers one encounters in the travel industry, and keen to save money on multi-language printing costs, airlines manufactured safety cards that were almost entirely illustrated.

These laminated leafs are deposited in the pouch in front of you, and you are then instructed by your flight attendant to pay special attention to he or she as they ‘live’ perform those same instructions as can be found on your cards. Some airlines take this process very seriously (sprouting serious demeanours and frowning at disinterested passengers) while others (South West Airlines) tend to add a humorous flavour to the obligated instruction. 

On each card, a simplistic drawing of an aircraft can be found, with emergency exits and yellow slides protruding from them. Note: these slides are not designed as a play-thing. A downed aircraft or one stuck without a ladder is not a toy, despite how it may look on a safety card.  


Over the course of various comic-style panels, illustrations of people can be seen crouching down, struggling to fasten their seat-belts, reaching for gas masks and abiding by the now decades old rule of ‘No Smoking’ on board the aircraft. 


Safety cards,

while being a very important piece of information can also provide an immense amount of enjoyment, as we have suggested. Just take a look at the cards throughout aviation history and you’ll see what we mean. From dated hair-styles to positioning that could be regarded in the most peculiar manner, the artists that created these manuals clearly had a sense of humour. 

Despite the technical advancements that have seen these instructions transposed onto seat televisions, there is still a place for these cards. Many people feel the allure of these cards so strongly that they collect them, while others take the images and translate them into something very different to their original purpose; case in point – South Pacific Airlines (a defunct airline as of the 1960's, recreated for the film) produced a safety card to illustrate the dangers of travelling with ‘Snakes on a Plane’. 

South Pacific Airlines - snakes on a plane

Thank heavens they told us, we were all set to take our pet Cobra, Carlos to the Costa del Sol this summer.
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