Feature

By George Banks

During a long career in inflight service George Banks gathered a lifetime’s collection of aviation memorabilia. Here he looks back at the grand tradition of
promotional postcards.

Whatever happened to postcards? Collectors value them as a snapshot of history, landscapes and events, and in days gone by sending postcards to friends and family was seen as a polite and normal thing to do.

Today they have largely been replaced by photos and e-mails which can be sent in seconds by phone or laptop, and commercial companies, like Moonpig, which will design a postcard around your own photo, write it and send it for you in the click of a mouse.

Postcards have a long tradition. The first commercially-produced postcard was created in 1861 by John P Charlton of Philadelphia, who patented it as ‘a postal card’. Austria became the first country to publish destinations postcard, but the golden age of picture postcards was really from 1902 to 1918. 1907 was apparently the peak year!

The travel industry used postcards as a marketing tool – hotels and cruise lines put them with writing paper in their rooms as do the big cruise lines, and airlines used to regularly hand them out as souvenirs or include them in the inflight pack placed in the seat pocket. Some still do this, but generally postcards are a thing of the past. Here are a few I have collected over the years.

Ariel Hotel

The unusual circular Ariel Hotel was one of London Airport’s first purpose-built properties [before it was called Heathrow] so was certainly something to write home about! The 185-room hotel is still in use today.

Varig Airlines

This very avant-garde card, designed by Tufic Yazbek in 1967, set a futuristic tone as it showcased the onboard style

United Arab Airlines

Egyptian history is a big draw for travellers and this, with a picture of the young king Tutankhamen, was presented to passengers on the airline’s new Boeing 707 flying from Heathrow to Cairo via Rome in 1969. The wording on the card read: “Sitting on lap of luxury – onboard United Arab Airlines.”

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

KLM was proud of its stretched Douglas DC-8-63 Jetliner. The glossy large postcard was given out on its flagship route from Amsterdam to New York in 1970, informing travellers: “This giant of the skies flies our long intercontinental routes. It is one symbol of our reputation, as the world’s most reliable airline.”

Rome, Italy

A 1971 postcard depicting Republic Square and Terminus station by night. This postcard was posted at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 8pm on 10 October 1971

Kenya Airways

Postcards were often used to depict highlights of a destination. Kenya Airways supported promotions of its home nation by focusing on safaris and the wildlife on offer. This one from 1972 gave passengers a glimpse of the lions and elephants they were heading towards, with a backdrop of Mount Kilamanjaro.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines offered postcards on request. This one from 1973 shows their famous hostesses, and another promotes their Business class ‘Spacebed’.

Gulf Air

This postcard of the Gulf Air VC1O was presented to passengers at the beginning of the airline’s huge expansion in 1974.

Spantax

The Spanish charter airline gave out postcards to passengers in 1970 showing its Convair 990 ‘Coronado’ jet. Spantex operated until 1988.

BA Supersonic Concorde

This postcard of the icon of the supersonic age, the Concorde, was presented to all passengers on their flights. A beautiful souvenir.