Seat pocket gifts

BY GEORGE BANKS

George Banks won the 2016 Onboard Hospitality Lifetime Achievement Award following a long career in inflight service. Here he looks back at a lifetime of memorabilia he’s gathered from the back of the seat pockets

Where today most airlines simply stuff an inflight magazine, a safety card and a sick bag in the seat pocket, in the past passengers were treated to wonderful folders with impressive artwork full of useful items.

They were designed to keep passengers occupied at a time when inflight entertainment was in its infancy and were offered, along with additional gifts and giveaways, as a way to create more interaction between the flight attendant and the passenger.

As passenger numbers grew and crew numbers fell, the costs became prohibitive and time to interact fell away. Today, much of what was offered has been replaced by inflight technology. Writing paper has become an irrelevance and postcards are now collectors’ items, rather than a missive sent home.

The days of seat pocket folders being offered as a souvenir are gone, but perhaps it tells us something of how much they were loved, that these items now sell at high prices and are valued by collectors.

1950s

BOAC: In the days of the Lockheed Constellation aircraft, the pre-runner to BA included a stylish pack with writing paper, postcards and envelopes, route maps, luggage labels, slippers and an eye-mask. There was also a paper fan and the latest timetable with profound quotations such as: “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”

1960s

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES (merged with United in 2012): When the US airline introduced its Boeing 707s in the 1960s it included a new Flight Packet in the seat back, marketing the aircraft as Continental’s Golden Jets. Inside was a coloured booklet: Inside the Golden Jet, a large souvenir flight map, a feedback card addressed to the ‘vice president customer field services’ and two postcards. Back then ticket checking was done onboard the aircraft, and Continental’s director passenger service could even sell you a ticket onboard! Continental went on to call its Boeing 747s ‘the proud bird with the golden tail’.

ETHIOPIAN INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES: This colourful and original inflight seat pocket pack included the story of the Queen of Sheba, Ethiopian tour ideas and a route map introducing Boeing 720B (fan jet) services under the heading “Relax in superb comfort at over 10 miles a minute”. A plastic cocktail stirrer with a golden lion and the wording ‘Fly Ethiopian fan jets’ was a nice souvenir and the map included the story of the airline and doubled as a personal flight log in which passengers could record details of their flight.

1970s

AIR INDIA: Decorated with wonderful Indian art work and full of humour, Air India’s seat pocket folder added fun and personality to the offer. The folder included a paper fan, slippers, eyemask, bar tariff, embossed writing paper and envelopes but also specially-produced amusing booklets. The Foolishly Yours and Better Aquainted booklets gave quirky travel tips and advice on meeting others around the world. Not all of it was terribly politically correct but would certainly have raised a smile or two at the time.

EAST AFRICAN AIRWAYS: This former airline of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda supplied a ‘Flight Companion’ professionally produced in high gloss card. It contained a paper fan, a colourful route map and a shot of an EAA hostess in her famous leopard skin hat. There was a large postcard of the EAA Super VC10 aircraft, writing paper, a bar and duty free tariff, and a card saying: ‘Sorry this seat is occupied’, for use at transit stops. Other leaflets offered safari tours, news and advertising for the airline’s Comet 4 jetliner.

LAN CHILE: Chile’s national airline offered a seat pocket folder with a branded pen, writing paper, envelopes and bar tariff. An inflight magazine gave inspirational facts and holiday highlights for Chile and Easter Island and inflight entertainment came as a jigsaw.

CATHAY PACIFIC: This generous pack, given with the Discovery magazine and celebrating the airline’s 30th anniversary, contained chopsticks, a paper fan, leaflets on the company, writing paper, a ‘do not disturb’ sticker and postcards depicting the 707’s improved cabin décor and layout under the slogan ‘First in the world with the widebody look 707’. First passengers received a large red bag with inflight dressing gown, toiletries, slippers and an eye mask.

SWISSAIR: In addition to a booklet entitled Memories of a Swissair flight (in German, French, English and Portuguese), the airline gave out two large colour postcards depicting beautiful Swiss scenery, and large Swiss chocolate coins. The booklet included the bar tariff, the duty free selection, puzzles, airport information, crew identification, and items available free onboard.

VARIG: Former Brazilian airline Varig offered a grey branded plastic shopping bag to First passengers, with slippers, eyemask, a box of Swiss Chocolates, Christian Dior Eau Savage writing paper and postcards, along with other leaflets. In Economy, a high gloss Flight Information folder held writing paper and envelopes, a book of games, route maps and a guide to Brazil.

MALAYSIA SINGAPORE AIRLINES A forerunner to Singapore Airlines: MSA offered a Boeing 707 Service Guide with a welcome message, flight information, duty free price list and details of the crew. There was writing paper, a box of matches, and menu cards, all featuring the work of batik artist Seah Kim Joo, to create a cohesive professional image. In addition, small gifts such as chess sets, address books, pens and key rings were given out.