Bag it

By George Banks

George Banks won our 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award following a long career in inflight service. Here he looks back at the premium gift offerings of the past.

The range of gifts given to passengers has constantly changed and was strictly governed by IATA rules in the sixties and seventies. Premium passengers could only be offered items that could be termed ‘for use inflight’, as gifts in the cabin. Never the less a huge array of items was offered from address books and paper fans to picture prints and flowers, wallets, pens, ties and scarves, watches, china ornaments, crystal glasses and shopping bags.

Gradually this gift became dominated by toiletries for use onboard and the amenity bag became a standard gift across airlines for premium passengers at least.

Style and quality were key from the start with the likes of Malaysia Singapore Airlines (MSA) offering Christian Dior toiletries in a pack of three small glass bottles in the early seventies, and famous designers such as Anya Hindmarch being commissioned to design original styles by the early eighties.

The contents began with slipper socks, eye mask, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, and gradually became far more sophisticated with costly perfumes, aromatherapy products, branded facial and body creams and luxury brands such as Bulgari onboard.

Today almost every airline offers amenity bags. Many change them up to four times a year with exclusive collectables adding a reason to book for some passengers.

Bags now boast post-flight uses too from iPad case to clutch bag, make-up case to gadget store, and new items include charging cables, guide books and items tailored to specific journeys. Prints and colours are vivid and styles constantly evolve. With this year’s launch of the Lalique aromatherapy candle in a crystal glass and full bottles of perfume or aftershave on Singapore Airlines we seem to be back to where we began with the focus once more on true gifting.

KLM 1950s

KLM has offered its collection of Dutch miniature houses since the 1950s. This souvenir reflects the home destination and has become very popular with passengers.

Air India 1970s

A set of three Givenchy toiletries were marked ‘for use on board’ by Air India, in 1975, to ensure they complied with IATA rules and the same airline offered its passengers black and gold silk dressing gowns to wear inflight. ANA –All Nippon also offered warm sleeve-less waistcoats for passengers to wear onboard and perhaps this was the start of the trend towards pyjamas and loungewear for premium passengers.

Latin America 1980s

Lan Chile offered a practical toilet bag in the 1980s with a simple branded blue bag holding a comb, toothpaste and toothbrush set, eye mask, slippers, disposable razor, a pen and a route map, but Brazilian airline, Varig, featured a grey plastic shopping bag with generous contents, combining gifts of Christian Dior Eau Savage, Swiss Lindt chocolates, slippers, eye mask, toothbrush and tissues. In addition writing paper and envelopes were included. VIASA, Venezuela’s former national airline operated a fleet of DC-8s and DC-10s and in its ‘Service Superior’ Business cabin offered beautiful Parker pens as an inflight giveaway.

Alitalia 1990

Avianca Colombia offered First passengers elegant paperweight gifts in velvet drawstring bags. The paperweights depicted a reproduction of an item from Bogota’s famous Gold Museum.

Alitalia 1990

KLM 1950s

Alitalia presented a uniquely different retro option in the nineties in a beautiful tin branded ‘La Collezione di Magnifica Magnifica Class’ and wrapped in a soft felt green bag, with a stylish photo of an Alitalia hostess with two children walking away from the aircraft. The contents included socks, eyemask, large comb, moisturising cream, cologne, tissues, toothbrush and paste.

British Airways 1995

The Anya Hindmarch retro bags for First became very popular and collectable for British Airways in the nineties. Designer Anya Hindmarch clearly had fun with the beautiful BA Heritage collection featuring black and white photographs of flying boats, Stratocruisers and vintage passenger cabins.

Emirates 2015

The Emirates Business bag is one of the most generous toilet bags around. Designed with a zip closure in grey linen- look fabric, it includes slippers, eye mask, branded shaving foam, a Truefit and Hill by Royal Appointment gentlemen’s razor, hairbrush, deodorant, Bulgari body lotion, Eau de Perfume, tissues and Eau de Cologne.

Tap Air Portugal 2017

The TAP Air Portugal barrel bag was created by skysupply to celebrate the airline’s 72nd anniversary in 2017. The retro bag style in orange and beige contains beautiful cotton pyjamas, and Portuguese products of Lavanda Eau de Cologne, Couto toothpaste, Benamor hand cream, and shaving cream. There is also a set of destination postcards and a picture of the TAP A330 in seventies’ colours.