December 20, 2019

During a long career in inflight service George Banks gathered a lifetime’s collection of aviation memorabilia. Here he looks back at the cooling influence of fans

The term ‘fan jet’ became common in the late 1960s to describe jet engines with a fan driven by a turbine. They were the start of the modern jet era providing extra air to the burner and giving extra thrust at the critical time of take off.

Airlines often introduced their Boeing 707s as ‘fan jets’, giving extra cachet to the new aircraft, and one often heard inflight announcements on boarding referring to fan jets. But it was the more traditional fan that passengers really valued in the days before efficient air-conditioning.

Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Singapore, China Airlines and Thai International all offered fans as gifts to passengers, as did Iberia, BOAC, Swissair, East African Airways and many others.

They are a gift with a long history. Their origins stretch back to the Egyptians although the folding fan, given onboard, is widely recognised as having been invented in Japan and China. In Japan, the fan is said to be modelled on the folding wings of a bat; while the Chinese believe the sight of a woman fanning her face mask at a festival led to its creation. Fans came to Europe in the 1500s by way of trade routes and travellers, and became an exotic and stylish symbol of wealth and class.

It became a normal item for travellers to take on long tiring journeys and airlines, particularly in the Far East, started to offer them to waiting passengers onboard and at airports in the days when there was no air-conditioning and often no ceiling fans.

Today the efficiency of air-conditioning has removed the necessity of fans but here are a few rare examples of those offered to passengers in the fifties and sixties.


BOAC offered paper and wood fans to its passengers on the Constellation, Britannia, Comet 4, Boeing 707 and VC10s. As a pioneer of Far East, African and Australian routes BOAC’s paper fans eased the journey and cooled the passenger in the sometimes turbulent and tropical climates.


EAA with hubs in Entebbe, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, started offering these paper and wood fans on their Comet 4 Jetliners, promoting the message “Jet there at 8 miles a minute”. EAA operated from tropical destinations so the fans were essential for cooling passengers on boarding and at transit stops.


Swissair presented passengers on its long multi-stop flights to the Far East with an elegant black and silver fan with silk tassle. Operating as far away as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila and Tokyo these flights offered beautiful meals on china equipment even in Economy.


Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag carrier, was formed in 1946 and has become one of the world’s most renown airlines. The airline offered a paper and wood fan decorated with dragons and oriental characters in the generous seat packs given out to passengers.


Iberia offered these attractive fan-shaped booklets in addition to cooling fans onboard its aircraft. Fans had a long tradition as a Spanish lady’s accessory in the heat of summer – used to hide their faces as well as to cool themselves in the warm climate.


Thai International commenced services in 1960 and operated in a joint venture with SAS Scandinavian Airlines System. Charming hostesses offered every passenger an orchid on boarding and these silver, orchid pink and deep purple fans with a silk tassle promoting the airline’s Royal Orchid Service.


A new era of aviation related fans came with the new ‘fan jet’ aircraft – a type of airbreathing jet engine as introduced by Malaysia Singapore Airlines in 1968. Operated by Boeing 707s, these aircraft were now fully pressurised.