By George Banks

As the trend towards onboard gifting comes to the fore, drawing on his personal collection and a lifelong career onboard, George Banks looks back at unusual gifts of the past

Everyone loves to receive a gift however small it might be, and as the give-away trend returns to the onboard scene with the Singapore Airlines’ gifting programme in collaboration with FORMIA, I’m reminded of the airline gifts of the past.
Traditionally the items given were branded with an airline logo, and many were inspired by the airline’s marketing departments and designed to give their product profile beyond the flight. But while they served a commercial purpose many also became very highly regarded too.

Such gifts were generally produced in relatively small quantities, and only given to the elite passengers travelling in premium cabins, so even if not valuable in themselves, they were treasured for their scarcity value and in some cases proved to be valuable in the longer term.

The idea was to promote the airline to passengers or agency sales teams and keep the brand top of mind beyond the airports. All sorts of creative ideas were offered from airline bags, key rings and pens which were standard for a while, to vinyl records featuring music from the home nation, to ashtrays, delicate crockery items and stylised drinking glasses and unique souvenir ornaments.

Thinking of launching a gifting programme? Here are a few ideas from the past which show anything goes, just use your imagination


Venezuelan flag carrier VIASA offered big jet comfort on direct flights from the USA and Europe to its capital Caracas. In celebration of its national culture it produced this 45rpm vinyl disc of Venezuelan music as a sales giveaway.

Malaysia Singapore Airlines

Malaysia Singapore Airlines presented a 45rpm vinyl disc of its theme music: ‘A great way to fly’ in 1971, as a gift presented in an attractive black and white gloss sleeve. The music was used on the airline’s TV commercials.

United Arab Airlines

UAA, which later became Egyptair, designed some original ashtray gifts, one of which took the iconic shape of a pyramid (left). It promoted the Comet 4C jetliner and featured Egyptian art.


Italian carrier Alitalia offered a small elegantly-painted china plate to mark the introduction of the Caravelle and DC-8 Jetliners in 1960.

Kenya Airlines

Kenya Airways offered a bounty of gifts including quality slippers, eyemasks, stationery, pens, and locally-sourced coffee.


The once iconic Brazilian airline VARIG offered branded china dishes filled with Brazilian coffee beans.

Eastern Airlines

Operating in the US from 1926 to 1991, Eastern offered specially designed glasses to promote its 60 Martin 404 airliners flying 1952-62. Marketed as the ‘Silver Falcon’ it was said at the time to be the ‘world’s most advanced twin engine airliner’.

Singapore Airlines

Now working with FORMIA on an onboard gifting programme featuring the Lalique brand, SIA in the past offered a handmade porcelain model of the Singapore Airlines stewardess. Only 500 were produced by prestigious British china brand, Coalport.

British Airways

British Airways presented a special boxed blue and white fine bone china cup and saucer especially illustrated by artist Manilo Jesse.


Emirates offered practical gifts at the many sports events it sponsored such as this branded cushion for those watching the 2013 US Open. It promoted the daily non-stop New York to Milan route. In addition, a red Ralph Lauren polo shirt and a Panama hat were given to guests.