History,Safety cards

HISTORY OF SAFETY CARDS, Part 5: Maturing (1970s-1980s)

By Fons Schaefers


In the previous issue, we saw that in the mid-1960s safety cards became mandatory. This caused a proliferation of safety cards and parties being involved in their design and production. It set in motion some trends and developments that shaped the appearance of safety cards until this day. Let’s review them.


The first trend was that, now that safety cards were mandatory, all airlines applied them. This included smaller airlines such as regional and air taxi operators which before did not have them. The USA led, but many other countries followed suit. A US example is Texas International Airlines, a local airline operating Convair 600s and DC-9s. It earned its “international” nomer because it flew across the border to Mexico. Its 1970 Convair 600 card has a mix of drawings and text, in English on one side and Spanish on the other. A revision of the card 2.5 years later is identical except for the evacuation slide. This is now of the inflatable kind, but who noticed?

Texas International Convair 600, dated May 1, 1970, front. Dec. 1972 revision.

An early example from Europe is a card for the Fokker F.27. Although it does not say so, this card was in use with NLM. That stands for Nederlandse Luchtvaartmaatschappij – Netherlands Airlines, which started in 1966 and was affiliated to KLM. Initially, it flew domestic routes only with two F.27s leased from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, but gradually expanded into a regional carrier. It exists today as KLM Cityhopper. The card reproduced was its first card and dates back to about 1970. Its design did not follow the style in use by KLM at the day. Rather, it was copied from a sample made by Fokker, the aircraft manufacturer. Text prevailed, in Dutch and English on the front side, German and French on the back. The title however was only in English – on both sides.

NLM Fokker F.27, c. 1970, front.

A trend that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s was leasing of aircraft between airlines. There are many varieties of leasing. For the safety card collector, the most interesting one is where there is a mix of features on it from both the lessee (the airline that leases in) and the lessor (the airline that leases out). An example is the Aeroflot Ilyushin 62 that was leased out to Air India in the late 1980s. For the passengers, it should have the look of Air India, hence the Air India logo. All text is in three languages: Hindi, English and Russian, except that the header has three more languages: German, Polish and Greek, probably a remnant from the Aeroflot example. Note the distances to the ground from exit sills. Only Russian cards have this useful information.

Air India Ilyushin IL-62, header on front, top portion of back.

Safety cards also found their way on non-commercial transport aircraft. An example is the Gulfstream 1 operated by Pittsburgh National Bank from 1983 to 1985. This aircraft sat less than 20 passengers so there was no cabin staff on board. The card explains where passengers can find the refreshments and that cockpit jump-seat rides are allowed!

Pittsburgh National Bank Gulfstream G-159, front and back.

In some countries the introduction of safety cards was delayed. In the UK it remained common well into the 1970s to have safety information included in the company’s in-flight magazine instead of having a separate safety briefing card. See the British Eagle sample in the previous part, and the exit diagrams for the Britannia and the ample-exited Viscount below.

British Eagle exit layouts Britannia (top) and Viscount (bottom), from in-flight magazine.

But when indeed a separate safety card was used in Britain, the American rule prohibiting mixing aircraft types with different exit layouts was not always followed. This mid-1970s Dan-Air card showed both the 727-100 and the 727-200. Although seemingly of the same length, the -100 was actually significantly shorter and had a different exit layout. Some of you probably spotted the error for the 727-100: side exits aft of the wing! These were only on the -200, weren’t they? Actually, this was not an error. In the early 1970s Dan-Air obtained short body 727s from Japan Airlines and converted them into a high-density seating layout. For that, two extra, opposite exits were required by the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).Below photo, courtesy of I Spashett, shows G-BAEF’sleft side with the new exit just added, awaiting painting in Dan-Air colours. Reportedly, they could sit 153 passengers, but I doubt whether that figure is correct. An already very cramped layout on Seating Plans – DAN AIR REMEMBERED shows 144 seats. Perhaps the 153 figure included the crew?

Dan-Air 727-100/-200 card, front (back side is blank).
Dan-Air Boeing 727-100, G-BAEF, early 1973. Photo by I. Spashett.

In China, aviation safety was not a priority until well into the 1990s. It was common for airliners not to have any safety card on board, or the wrong one, stowed away in a hat rack, as the author experienced in 1989 when flying on a CAAC Hawker Siddeley Trident but finding a CAAC BAe 146 card. Another airline that did not take safety cards too serious was Aviaction from Germany. One side of its card shows the bare minimum of safety features, the other side presents the destinations of this holiday charter airline and a beach lady in bare minimums as well, clad only in sunscreen. Aviaction flew three Fokker F.28s between February 1971 and October 1973.

Aviaction Fokker F.28 card, front.
Aviaction Fokker F.28 card, back.

Pictorials and Pictograms

Another trend, developing slowly, was that of pictures replacing text. Already in the 1950s, airlines started to add illustrations to their text-based safety leaflets. Still, even two decades later, there were many safety cards where text prevailed with illustrations in a supportive role only. Gradually, this reversed into the opposite. Pictures became primary and text became supporting. There were several reasons for that. One is the adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Another is the multitude of languages. Whilst for domestic US airlines, English was the dominant language. Airlines that flew internationally used many more languages. This took up much space. As we saw in the previous part, Pan Am in 1969 translated all text in eight languages and needed a booklet for this. It bundled all the illustrations on one fold-out sheet so that passengers could consult it alongside the text. A third reason is that the power of illustrations was recognized by the authorities and became formally recommended, as we will see below.

An early reverser was Lufthansa. Its 1973 Boeing 737 card combines texts in six languages with photos.

Lufthansa 737 card, 1973, page 2 out of 4.

The next year they introduced an illustrations-only format. At the top of the card they added an index using pictograms. These pictograms were explained by text appearing in no fewer than 13 languages. See the Boeing 707 example, dated June 1974. Lufthansa thus became a trend-setter.

Lufthansa Boeing 707, 1974, page 2 out of 4.

Not only was the concept of pictograms copied by many others, but often also Lufthansa’s unique drawing style itself was copied. See for instance Hungarian’s airline Malev with its 1988 card for their new 737. Until then their fleet was dominated by Soviet types.

Malev Boeing 737, c. 1988, interior page.

Other airlines used the pictograms concept but developed their own presentation style, such as British Airways, formed in 1974 out of a merger between BOAC and BEA. See their card for the “Super 737” which was just a first generation 737-200. These pictograms were widely copied by other airlines.

British Airways Boeing Super 737, top of front.

Some small airlines continued to use text based cards. In July 1989 I flew on a TWA affiliate CASA 212 from New York JFK to Atlantic City to visit the FAA Technical Centre. It was a hot day and take-off queues were long. As an alternative to air conditioning, the captain lowered the aft ramp to make us more comfortable. Its safety card, which does not show the ramp as it is not an emergency exit, is reproduced. It lists Jet Express as the operator, even though this small TWA Express carrier never operated jets, only the CASA 212.

TWA Express (Jet Express) CASA 212, front and back.

Some airlines, like American, Northwest and United preferred photographs over drawings. In the majority of cases however drawings prevailed. They have the advantage that essential actions and features can be emphasized, and backgrounds can be omitted. Compare the window exit opening presentation on an American Airlines 727 card with that of National Airlines. Which one is clearer?

American Airlines 727-023, window exit panel.      National Airlines Super B 727, window exit panel.

Inflatables Innovation

Aircraft escape chutes were invented in 1947. Ten year later, the first inflatable slides appeared. Another ten years later, the first wide-bodies were being developed. These were, initially, the Boeing 747 (four engines), the Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed Tristar (both with three engines) and, from Europe, the twin-engined Airbus A300. These aircraft sat higher off the ground so their slides had to be taller. Exits over the wing led to escape routes down the wings, with heights too high for jumping. So, special off-wing slides were made. On the first 747 cards, these were all nicely and clearly explained. Many initial operators used the same drawings, supplied by Boeing. I show panels from the Continental May 1970 card, which were identical to those of American, United or Wardair. Early 747s had separate life rafts, typically stowed in ceiling lofts, as shown by Continental. Wardair even showed a raft launching scheme. Later, the explanations got more terse, or disappeared completely, leaving only graphics, with passengers possibly puzzled as to their meaning.

Continental 747-124, dated May 1, 1970, page 2 out of 4;  over-wing door slide and life rafts panels.
Wardair 747, life raft panel.

Late in the 1960s, the combined slide/life raft was invented, called slide/raft. It just missed the first 747s, but all overseas DC-10 and Tristar cards show slide rafts. Nigeria Airways’ DC-10 card had the best explanation: “in case of ditching the slides are used as rafts.”

Nigeria Airways DC-10, slide raft panel.

Gradually, also 747s were so equipped and separate life rafts became rare on long haul aircraft. Short haul aircraft did not need them, but there were exceptions. In the mid-1980s, East West was an Australian Fokker F.28 operator that served Norfolk Island, which is in the Pacific about 1,400 km (870 miles) from Australia. For that route, it carried life rafts near the front doors, but the safety card explains that for launching they should be carried to the overwing exits. They never had to put this to practice.

East-West Fokker F.28 Mk 4000, front: top and life rafts panel.

Effectiveness and Dedicated Companies

Few, if any airlines, tested the effectiveness of their cards, be it text-based or illustrations-based. The same applied to the manufacturers of aircraft, with one exception. Douglas Aircraft Company, a leading manufacturer of airliners since the 1930s, in 1967 hired two psychologists to do research in passenger safety systems and the effects of panic in crashes. They studied passenger behavior and experimented with passenger education methods. The safety systems that they studied were those typically appearing on safety cards such as exits and their operation, seat belt use and oxygen systems. But they also improved exit signs and lighting in the cabin and placards. After six years, they left Douglas (which now was McDonnell Douglas) and started a company making safety cards. They named it Interaction Research Corporation (IRC). This name reflected their modus operandi, which was to develop safety cards by means of research. They had their cards reviewed by members of the public (‘naïve subjects’) for comprehensibility of its contents. Poor scores needed improving the contents until a satisfactory score was reached. The two psychologists were Beau Altman and Daniel Johnson. Daniel also sat in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) panel for cabin safety and was instrumental in developing the first set of guidelines for cabin safety cards, published by the SAE in August 1976 as Aerospace Recommended Practice (ARP) 1384.

IRC started in a garage in the Long Beach, California area, where Douglas was based, but later moved to the state of Washington – Boeing territory. Their registered trade mark (™) was Just in case. The same tagline had been used by Pan Am on their 1950 safety leaflets, then not trademarked. Incidentally, Pan Am was one of the users of IRC material so their safety cards carried the Just in case line again.

1950s Pan Am Boeing 377 leaflet, cover page   1979 IRC Pan Am Lockheed L-1011, cover page.

Neither Beau nor Daniel were artists, so they hired illustrators for drawing the pictorials. Unintentionally, they thus created a pool of professionals who later started on their own. This explains why today there are quite a few safety card making companies in the state of Washington. At one stage, Beau Altman had its own company. I reproduce the 1988 Air Ontario Convair 580 card. Note the tagline: For Your Safety, not trade marked.

Air Ontario Convair 580, 1988, cover page and copyright statement.

On the East Coast, male flight attendant and vivid collector of safety cards – probably holding the world record in number of unique samples – Carl Reese, was an artist himself and started in 1981 a one-man safety card producing company. He named it Cabin Safety Inc., trademark Cabin Safety. His garage was his own home in Lester, PA, near Philadelphia. After having lived for a while in nearby, quiet Cecilton, MD and renaming his company as Cabin Safety International, he emigrated to Calgary, Canada. Readers of the Captain’s Log will recognize his name, or may even have met and traded with him. He ran the Log’s safety card section in the 1980s and often visits Airliners InternationalTM conventions. An early safety card of his hand is for Altair’s Fokker F-28, drawn November 1981. Carl also tested his drawings on naïve subjects, but not at the same scale as IRC.

Cabin Safety Inc. Altair Fokker F28 card, 1981, exit locations panel with copyright statement.

Whereas IRC mainly served large airlines and heavier equipment, Carl’s clientele primarily consisted of smaller airlines and private operators, with associated lighter aircraft. Where Pan Am used IRC, Pan Am Express (formerly Ransome Airlines) used Cabin Safety. Its ATR42 flew routes both in the USA and, before the wall fell, between West Germany and Berlin. For the latter, Carl made a version with German as primary language.

1989 Cabin Safety International Pan Am Express ATR 42 (Internal German service), cover page.

Regulatory Actions

The 1970s’ spike in survivable, yet fatal accidents caused concern with the US congress. Its members, coming from all of the US states for meetings in Washington, D.C., were frequent flyers and could well relate to it. The House of Representatives organized a series of hearings aimed at improving cabin safety, occurring almost annually between 1976 and 1990. In July 1977, the focus was on passenger education. Witnesses interviewed included a survivor of the 1974 Pago Pago crash and Beau Altman and Daniel Johnson. For those interested, search for: Aviation Safety: Aircraft Passenger Education, the Missing Link in Air Safety : Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Review of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, First Session, July 12, 13, and 14, 1977. Coincidently or not, the FAA had published just a few weeks before its first set of guidelines for briefing cards: FAA Advisory Circular (AC) No. 121-24. These guidelines augmented the requirements in force since the previous decade. The entire AC can be found on page 118 of the NTSB 1985 Special Study on Airlines Passenger Safety Education (https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/pages/ss8504.aspx).

Both the SAE ARP and the FAA AC set standards for what to present in the cards. Both said that ‘the primary method of presentation should be pictorial’. This accelerated the trend of going away from text and use graphs instead. The list of subjects to be explained does not contain any surprises:

  • exits/slides/oxygen/seatbelts/brace positions/individual flotation devices.

Additionally, for extended overwater operations:

  • exit awareness and location/life preservers/life rafts, slide rafts/emergency locator transmitters (ELT)/survival equipment.

Note that both the exit awareness and location and the ELT guidance was limited to the overwater operations section. This is strange as they would equally apply to overland flights. This was corrected in later updates. The AC also addressed the briefings by flight attendants to passengers, including handicapped passengers. Both the ARP and the AC exist today, updated with many subjects added since the original version, as we will see in the next part of this series.

FAA AC 121-24, front page.


Comparing 1970s and 1980s cards to the ARP and AC reveals some interesting facts.

In many cases, airlines covered more subjects than the minimum prescribed. Often, emergency equipment and their locations were displayed even though not prescribed. This also applied to equipment that should not be used on board, such as radios, television sets and cigarette lighters. It was not uncommon to show passengers the crash axe in the rear of the cabin, as Avianca did on their 707. Would they still do that today? Remember, these are the 1970s and 1980s.

Avianca 707, top of interior pages.

Some 1970s cards still had the emergency landing preparation instructions that were en vogue in the 1950s, instructing passengers to remove glasses, sharp objects and much more. See the sample taken from the Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) Caravelle leaflet. Libyan Arab Airlines was the new name of Kingdom of Libya Airlines, following the coup in late 1969 by Muammar Gadaffi which ended the monarchy. This leaflet likely dates from 1970 or soon after.

Libyan Arab Airlines Caravelle, cover and 2 out of 8 interior pages.

The 1970s saw the phrase “Do not remove from the aircraft,” “Leave on board,” or similar messages gradually appear on more and more safety cards. It is believed that smaller airlines, with lower budgets, started with this, possibly in an attempt to stop having to replenish whole loads of cards after each flight. Larger airlines then took up this practice as well and today it will be hard to find a card without such a text. It is believed that IRC, whose business was to sell cards to airlines, initially only used the phrase when their customers so specified. Cabin Safety had it from their start in 1981.

Both card makers diligently met all the recommendation of the ARP and AC. The only item they typically added that was neither on the ARP nor the AC were instructions for the stowage of hand luggage and the seat back table.

Some airlines that had long stretches over water were late with including instructions for evacuation on water and the use of life rafts. Lufthansa did not have separate water evacuation panels, but showed the use of life rafts or slide rafts where so equipped. The original Laker Airways, which was British and became famous for their no-frills, very cheap “Skytrain” flights between London and New York from 1977 until 1982,only showed life vests and nothing else that would facilitate a ditching evacuation.

Laker Airways DC-10, cover page.

(The later US Laker Airways also used DC-10s and had cards made by IRC, with ditching instructions). Conversely, British Island Airways, which flew the high-winged Dart Herald only a short sector over water between England and the European continent in the 1970s, did show on their cards how to evacuate on water: via the roof of the aircraft and with ropes attached to the wings to hold onto once outside!

British Island Airways, Dart Herald, cover and back pages.

In the next part, I will cover the trends in safety cards in the period 1990 to now.

Fons Schaefers / August 2023

Email: f.schaefers@planet.nl

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Safety cards

HISTORY OF SAFETY CARDS, Part 4: 1960s – Mandated!

By Fons Schaefers


Until the early 1960s survivability of transport aircraft accidents was not an issue. The attitude towards accidents was that they were a fact of life. All funds for safety should be allotted to learning from them so as to prevent future accidents. Investigations focused on the causes of accidents, not on their consequences in terms of survivability. It took two pioneers a decade or more to teach the aviation world it was worthwhile to expand the focus to survival factors, also known as “passive safety.” They proved that many improvements could be made in making aircraft more crash-worthy.

Those pioneers were Hugh DeHaven (1895-1980) and Howard Hasbrook (1913-2000). In 1942, DeHaven started the crash injury project at Cornell University (New York). In 1953, this was split into an automobile section, which he further developed (and which inspired car safety belts and Ralph Nader’s “unsafe at any speed”), and an aviation section. The latter was run by Hasbrook, who in the 1950s and early 1960s did pioneering work in investigating survival factors of major aircraft accidents. One of his earliest investigations was that of the National Airlines DC-6 crash near Newark in February 1952. He was the first to make sketches of the crash kinematics illustrating how and why aircraft broke up. Curious? Then go to https://archive.org/details/dtic_AD0030398/mode/2up

Not only were his methods innovative and his findings unprecedented but he also spent much time and effort in advocating them to airframe manufacturers, airlines, and aviation authorities, not only in the US but also abroad. His recommendations were well ahead of their time. Already in 1952, he suggested passenger seats be tested dynamically. It would take more than four decades before this became mandatory, first in the USA and later worldwide.

His safety campaign was successful. In 1963, the FAA proposed rulemaking for a host of cabin safety measures, ranging from improved exit signs and markings to mandatory evacuation demonstrations by airlines, and passenger briefings. Of course, it was not only Hasbrook who triggered the FAA to come into action. Less than three years after the first jets entered service in the US, the first crash of a jet with survivability issues happened: a United Airlines DC-8 at Stapleton Airport in Denver, CO, on July 11, 1961. Hasbrook investigated the circumstances in the cabin, which were painfully shocking [1]. To understand what follows, I reproduce the exit plan of United’s safety leaflet next to a sketch of the accident’s wind-steered smoke and fire pattern. The safety leaflet is dated 6/61, so released just weeks before the crash.

[1] FAA CAMI AM 62-9, Evacuation pattern analysis of a survivable commercial aircraft crash

The crash itself was mild, but a fuel fire erupted, gradually entering the cabin. All passengers in the first class section, which was large and extended from the front back to the wing and included all four overwing exits, survived. In the tourist class section, however, 16 passengers died of smoke inhalation. In that section, there were only two exits, only one that could be opened. The aisle was narrow and the divider between the two classes reached from floor to ceiling, obscuring the view forward. There was no indication, such as a sign, that there were exits beyond it. No passenger briefing had been given, even not after it had become clear that the landing would not be normal.

Whether the tourist passengers had boarded aft and were thus unaware of the forward section and the exits there, is not reported but it would not surprise me.

This accident was the first of a jet that should have been survivable to all occupants. It provoked a lot of attention. Four months later, a survivable, yet fatal accident occurred with a Lockheed Constellation on a military charter with young army recruits, many of whom died. That accident got much less attention for reasons unknown. In any case, the time was ripe for improved cabin safety measures. Something had to be done to increase the chances of passengers who survive the impact to escape from an aircraft before a fire overtakes them. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) came into action and, as said, in 1963 proposed a plethora of new cabin safety regulations. [3]

[2] FAA CAMI AM 70-16, Survival in emergency escape from passenger aircraft

[3]NPRM 63-42, Federal Register October 29, 1963

1965 – First Safety Card Rule

Although in 1962 Hasbrook recommended passengers be instructed in evacuation procedures prior to “any anticipated, unusual landing situation,” he did not go as far as asking for safety cards. Neither, in 1963, did the FAA. But, at a hearing in June 1964 on the proposed regulations, somebody suggested safety cards as an additional measure. By whom, I could not find, but I would not be surprised if it was one of those operators already voluntarily using them. United Airlines, perhaps?

When the final rule was issued in March 1965, the FAA mandated printed safety cards for all US airlines per June 7, 1965. Here is the text of the regulation – focus on section (b):

As you can see, the requirements for the card were simple. They must show:

  • diagrams of the emergency exits;
  • methods of opening emergency exits;
  • other instructions necessary for use of emergency equipment.

These requirements were broadly worded. The first was generally interpreted as showing the location of the exits on an airplane plan. The second was met by illustrating how to open the exit. The third one was quite vague – does this include emergency equipment like fire extinguishers or first-aid kits? Not so if we look at the safety cards of the time. They showed oxygen masks, escape slides and for overwater operations, life vests and, occasionally, life rafts, but nothing more.

1965 Safety Cards

The new rule must have triggered several US airlines to issue a new range of safety cards. I will discuss some that directly resulted from it and some that were simply continuations of what was already there. Eastern Airlines issued new cards immediately, in June 1965. Eastern was one of the airlines that had separate cards for each aircraft type, as opposed to fleet cards. For an example see the DC-7 card in Lester Andersons’s July 2020 contribution below. Eastern’s Constellation card was a bit hybrid, as it showed three variants, each having a different exit layout. I reproduce the trio here, rotated 90 degrees to allow easier reading of the exit captions.

Eastern Airlines’ Constellation Safety Card

Ozark Air Lines had a fleet card labeled “OP-65,” which may have been in response to the new rule. It showed exit locations for three aircraft types: DC-3, Martin 404, and Fairchild F-27. This mix indeed uniquely reflects their 1965 fleet composition so it was likely released that year. But other than exit locations, nothing else was shown so it did not fully meet the new rule. On the reverse side, it said “occupied” in large letters, for passengers to reserve their seats during transit stops.

Delta Air Lines used fleet cards before the cabin safety card rule came into effect. I present the card used in the period 1962-1965, copied from the internet. It was called “Special Procedures for Emergencies.” This shows aircraft plans for the Convair 340/440, Douglas DC-6, DC-7/7B, DC-8, and Convair 880. Note the cockpit is on the right. The emergency exits consisted of either doors or window exits and were well indicated, with the means of opening explained in small panels.

This card survived the June 1965 regulatory change, as it already met it.

The single card was replaced about six months later by a leaflet with four vertical folds, like an accordion. It was issued in conjunction with the introduction of the new DC-9. In appearance, it was a complete makeover. The rather technical presentation was gone and replaced by a more attractive and modern look, making optimum use of the Delta logo. Other than that, it featured the same types as the previous card. I reproduce the front, but see also Brian Barron’s July 2017 entry.

Northwest Orient Airlines renewed its leaflets in September 1965. Northwest re-issued the “emergency water landings” leaflet in use since the early 1950s. While it indeed included diagrams of four different types showing exit locations, it lacked the method of opening them. This would rate it as not meeting the new rule. However, Northwest, while continuing this line of overwater leaflets, augmented them with a separate leaflet explaining the automatic oxygen system, exit locations, and opening method. Thus they met the new rule. On that leaflet, the Boeing 727 was added to the overwater types, but not the Lockheed Electra and DC-7C. Apparently, separate cards were made for those, non-automatic oxygen-equipped types (see Lester Anderson, July 2020).

Western Airlines changed its cards in December 1965. They were fleet cards, showing three types on one leaflet: Boeing 720B, Lockheed Electra II, and Douglas DC-6B. It had airplane plans, exit operation method panels, and more. I reproduce the plan for the Electra as that has some interesting features, which could easily have led to passenger confusion:

  • the main cabin entrance door, forward left, was not shown as an emergency exit. This was allowed under the period regulations;
  • the door on the left aft side is marked as “forward door exit,” even though it was well aft, being situated behind the wings.
Lockheed Electra II Emergency Exits

1967 – First Amendment to the Safety Card Rule

I could not find any cards dated 1966. That year however stands out as it saw a proposal by the FAA for already modifying the new briefing card rule. Two new requirements were presented for public consultation, which the FAA believed would improve passenger knowledge and avoid confusion:

  • each passenger over 12 years of age must be given one copy of the printed briefing card upon entering the airplane;
  • the cards must be pertinent to the type and model of airplane being used on the flight. 

The first proposal met with resistance from the airlines and was not adopted. The second, however, was well received and took effect on October 24, 1967:

This meant the end of fleet cards, at least in the USA.

Delta responded quickly and first issued type-specific cards in September 1967, one month before the rule deadline. They diligently made separate cards for each type and model, as the new regulation stipulated: one each for the DC-9-14, DC-9-32, DC-8-33, DC-8-51 (shown), CV-880, etc.

Delta DC-8-51 safety card

Five years later (8/72), they joined the two short DC-8 models (DC-8-33 and DC-8-51) on one card, as the exit locations and method of operation were identical. Yet, on the cover, a different type appeared. Delta later corrected that.

Which of these two appeared on the 1972 Delta DC-8-33/51 card? And what is it?

1968 and 1969 Safety Cards

The revised regulation led to an abundance of cards. Like Delta, the major carriers, aware of the upcoming rule, had already started re-issuing their cards in 1967. Scroll below to the articles by Barron and Anderson in this Captain’s Log safety card section to see some examples.

The next two years saw many more airlines introducing or revising them. Let me reproduce a selection to illustrate the artwork and methods of presentation.

in March 1968, Ozark Air Lines issued this Fairchild FH-227B card. On one side it has some technical data, plus text cautions about electronic devices, lighters, and a notification about flotation cushions. On the reverse side, there is graphic safety information showing exit locations and their operation.

Ozark FH-227B safety card-front
Ozark FH-227B safety card-back

Pacific Southwest Airlines introduced the Boeing 737 in September 1968, a brand new aircraft type. They had the safety cards prepared well in advance, as evidenced by the issue date: June 21, 1968. Emergency exit location, operation, and the slide were shown on one side; oxygen, bracing position, and flotation equipment were on the other. Note the rather primitive way of portraying the cabin.

PSA 737 safety card
PSA 737 safety card

Air West was formed in April 1968 by a merger of Pacific Air Lines (which started in 1941 as Southwest Airways, not to be confused with the later Southwest Airlines), Bonanza Air Lines, and West Coast Airlines. They all operated the Fairchild F-27. Their operating area covered the eight westernmost United States, so the new name, Air West, was apt. Air West’s December 1968 card was identical on either side, but for the language: English on one side, Spanish on the other. Safety information was limited to bracing position, flotation seat cushions, exit locations, and operation of the window exits plus the exit in the lavatory. The F-27 (both as built by Fokker and Fairchild) was probably unique in that one exit could only be accessed via the lavatory! For that purpose, its door needed to be secured open during take-off and landing. How the oppositely located integral stair-equipped entrance door opened was not shown. The illustrations were black on red, which would not have helped in conditions of poor lighting. When former TWA-owner Howard Hughes bought Air West in 1970, it became Hughes Airwest. In 1980 it was bought by Republic Airlines, which itself was absorbed by Northwest Airlines in 1986, which, in turn, was acquired by Delta Air Lines in 2008.

Air West F-27 safety card

In February 1969, TWA issued an extensive 18-page booklet for their 707 “Starstream” in five European languages. Large in size and print, and well-illustrated, not only are exit locations and their operation explained as well as oxygen, life vests, and rafts, but also seat belts, smoking, and portable radios and TVs. It had separate pages for infant life vest use and even how rescue is organized. The exit plan shows internal escape routes which are confusing in the overwing exit area. The longitudinal arrow lines are not connected between the two pairs of overwing exits. Was there a barrier? No, actually, there were seats between these exits. Probably TWA wanted to stress the importance of the overwing exits for passengers seated in the center cabin and omitted this detail.

TWA 707 Starstream safety card
TWA 707 Starstream safety card

Braniff had much simpler cards, two sides only, with “quick exit locations” on one side and exit operation (plus smoking, seat belts, oxygen, and bracing opposition) on the other side. On the April 1969 card, two variants of the 727 are shown: “cargo-passenger” and “all passenger.” Would this meet the regulatory qualification for same type and model? The cargo-passenger version shows the cargo compartment forward of the wing. The only exits available for passengers are those over the wing plus the tail exit, which is ranked as a “primary exit.” For the all-passenger version, that exit is a “secondary exit.”

Braniff 727 safety card
Braniff 727 safety card

Like TWA, Pan American issued a booklet for their Boeing 707. It covered the same subjects as TWA did, but was smaller and in three more languages (Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese). I reproduce from their July 1969 edition the front page and the illustration page. The latter folds out so it can be read along the subject page of the selection.

Pan Am 707 safety card cover
Pan Am 707 safety card illustration page

Outside the USA

The new rules directly affected US carriers. But they also inspired other countries to adopt the same, or similar regulations. I highlight three airlines from three European countries.

In Switzerland, Swissair replaced its fleet leaflets with type-specific leaflets around 1965, so actually before the US did. I show the type-specific leaflet for the Convair Metropolitan, the name that the Swiss used for the Convair 440. It is undated but I estimate it to be from around 1965.

Convair Metropolitan safety card
Convair Metropolitan safety card

Sometime in the 1950s, KLM of the Netherlands introduced a generic leaflet with emergency preparation instructions in six languages and included illustrated life vest instructions. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy to show. It was not a fleet card as it lacked type-specific information, like aircraft diagrams, but was likely used on all types. Exit information was limited to one line:

    “The escape hatches are marked ‘Emergency exit’ and the method of opening them is clearly indicated.”

It must have been used well into the next decade. For the DC-8, DC-9 and “Super DC-8” (DC-8-63), introduced in 1960, 1966, and 1967 respectively, it was augmented with separate leaflets for oxygen use, in no fewer than 12 languages, reflecting KLM’s standing as a global airline serving passengers of many tongues. Here is a poor-quality internet reproduction of the top portion of the DC-9 oxygen card.

KLM’s DC-9 oxygen card

Later, and likely prompted by the developments in the USA, KLM replaced the generic leaflet and oxygen supplements by type-specific cards. That change was drastic. From nearly text-only, KLM went for a low-text, all-graphic presentation, quite possibly to avoid the burden of having to translate in so many different languages. The new cards showed exit locations and their operation plus the brace position, oxygen use, and life vests. None of the early cards had an issue date making it difficult to determine a year. My best guess is 1968. There were separate cards for two versions of the DC-8 as well as two versions of the DC-9, all uniquely coded. The DC-9 cards carried the striped KLM logo which lasted until 1972. The DC-8 cards did not have any logo, possibly because they regularly flew for partner airlines such as Garuda Indonesia and Viasa (Venezuela) and KLM wanted to avoid confusion on the part of the passengers. I reproduce two panels from the DC-9 series 10 card.

KLM DC-9 safety card

The UK was one of the few countries with a strong civil aviation industry and authority, which had its own agenda. It did not follow the US as closely as many other countries. Many of the cabin safety measures invented in the US took a long time before they landed in the UK. In Britain, the airlines presented passenger safety information in their traditional in-flight magazines until well into the 1970s without issuing separate cards. I show the 1968 example of British Eagle, one of the independent airlines of the time. On the front cover, there is a reference to the safety on board pages, in three languages. The instructions are extensive and clear, but in text only, except for pictures of life jacket use. Further down the magazine technical data appears for the airplane types, with exit diagrams. I reproduce those for the Britannia (top) and the abundantly-exited Viscount (bottom).

British Eagle Welcome Aboard

In the next part, I will review safety card developments in the 1970s and 1980s.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Fons Schaefers / January 2023

Email: f.schaefers@planet.nl

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The History of Safety Cards, Part 3: The Jets Arrive (Turn of the decade 1950s/1960s)

By Fons Schaefers

Early attempts

One of aviation history’s most narrated events of failure is the false start of air transport by jets. I am referring to the years 1952 to 1954 and the operation of the first iteration of the British-built De Havilland Comet. Safety card-wise, this was a non-event as no leaflets specific to the type were carried. BOAC, at the time, used a generic leaflet focusing on surviving a ditching without identifying aircraft types. The other users of the first Comets were Air France, UAT, and Canadian Pacific which, as far as I know, neither used safety leaflets that showed the aircraft type.

Neither meant the introduction of the Tupolev 104 in the Soviet Union in 1956 jet-specific safety cards. Aeroflot was then far away from using safety leaflets at all. CSA, the Czech flag carrier and the only non-Soviet user of the type, did have Tupolev 104-specific safety leaflets but I doubt that was from the start (see 18 July 2017 contribution by Brian Barron under the ‘safety cards’ tile on this website for the CSA Tupolev 104 card and other cards relevant to this part).

Proper start

In the western world, jet airliners properly began in 1958. In Britain, De Havilland, now better understanding the phenomenon of metal fatigue, launched the Comet 4, which was put in service by BOAC in October 1958. The French Sud-Est Caravelle took off with Air France and SAS in May 1959. In the USA, the Boeing 707 was introduced by Pan American in October 1958 and by American Airlines and TWA in early 1959, while United and Delta started with the Douglas DC-8 in September 1959. The third US airframe contender was Convair with its 880 model (followed later by the 990 derivative), which started commercial service with Delta in 1960.

The arrival of jet airliners was generally welcomed as a major improvement in air travel. Some even considered it a quantum leap. The new propulsion method meant much shorter traveling times. This was entirely due to their higher speed, as their range was not better: the number of hops on the longest route at the time (the Kangaroo route from London to Sydney) remained about the same: typically eight. The jets also brought a capacity step. Pre-jet aircraft had maximum seating capacities of up to about 100; the first jets jumped to around 180, although initially, airlines employed luxury rather than high-density seating arrangements so typically installed around 110 to 140 seats.

Jet engines vibrate less than piston engines and are most economic at altitudes higher than where the props fly, where ‘weather’ and associated turbulence can be avoided. This brings a smoother and more comfortable ride. Yet, as air at altitude is thinner, it requires back-up oxygen for all occupants in case of a decompression. Here, there was a difference in policy between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In the US, automatic oxygen presentation capability to all passengers was required when flying above 30,000 ft. In Europe, that altitude was 35,000 ft. This meant that aircraft such as the Caravelle and most Comets did not need automatic oxygen as they stayed below 35,000 ft. Exemptions were the long-range Comet 4 which BOAC operated at higher altitudes and the Caravelle when operated under US rules, such as by United Airlines.

Jet’s effect on safety cards

Did the introduction of the jet mean a quantum leap in safety cards? The answer is both no and yes.

No: piecemeal changes

Most of the first airlines to fly jets were flag airlines. Many already had safety leaflets in use for their propliners covering their entire fleets (hence called fleet leaflets). The new jets were simply added to the existing leaflet designs with minimum changes. Good examples of this were BOAC, SAS, TCA and Pan American.

Comparing BOAC’s 1957 elaborative, ditching-oriented safety leaflet edition with that of 1958 shows only one change: the aircraft exit diagrams of three types (Stratocruiser, Argonaut, and Constellation) are replaced by that of the Comet 4 (the Britannia and DC-7C remained).

As BOAC flew their Comet 4 up to 40,000 ft it had oxygen provisions for all passengers, so a separate text only leaflet was made to explain those. Its use was no longer required when in 1960 the main leaflet was updated when the Boeing 707 was added to the fleet, and thus to the leaflet. A text plus an illustration on the oxygen equipment was added and, in true piecemeal change style, an illustration of how to open a window exit was added.

At SAS, we see something similar: in the 1959 edition of the leaflet, the Caravelle is added to the diagram page without any further changes to the leaflet. Even the front page still sports the DC-6B!

SAS, 1959
SAS, 1959: front page and exit diagrams panel. Note that entrance doors on the Caravelle (in the tail) and Metropolitan (left forward) are not rated as emergency exit.

But in the 1962 edition, which has both the DC-8 and Convair990 Coronado added, window exit pictures appear and, for these two types only, so not for the Caravelle as it had none, a page explaining the automatic oxygen system. (See Brian Barron’s contribution for the interim edition, which has the DC-8 added but not yet the 990). In 1962, SAS adds a caution against the use of portable radios on board, as they may affect navigation equipment.

TCA’s 1960 edition of its safety booklet (coded TCA-853) only adds a diagram of the DC-8 but without any exit operation or oxygen guidance. The latter, however, came in the form of a separate card (coded TCA 853-1), with both Trans-Canada Air Lines and Air Canada titles.

The early Pan American World Airways (PAWA) Boeing 707 folder sees automatic oxygen added to the traditional life jacket and life raft instructions (not shown) bu is otherwise very similar to the previous folder for the DC-7C. The latter’s handheld chute is replaced by an inflated slide and the window exit now depicts that of the Boeing.

In 1961, PAWA added a note about the dangers of using portable radios and other electronic devices as they may cause interference. Although labeled as important, this note was not translated into any of the other seven languages the folder had. So, perhaps it was added last minute.

PAWA, 1961

Yes: new concepts

Maybe calling them a quantum leap in safety card development goes too far, but several US airlines did use the new jets as an incentive for launching new concepts and ideas.

American Airlines (AA) was probably the first in safety information history to use a double-sided but unfolded heavy paper card. It is coded ‘T-352’ and is believed to be made for the introduction of the type in January 1959. Another AA innovation is to use graphics as the primary means of information, with text in a supportive role. That broke the industry standard of having text prevail with the occasional supporting graphic or photo. AA kept the information on the card to a minimum: an aircraft layout with all seats and exit locations/window exit operation/illustration of a deployed slide/an explanation of the passenger service unit and the automatic oxygen system. There were neither emergency preparation instructions nor brace positions. Also, there was nothing about life vests or rafts, but that matched the route pattern of AA which was then domestic-USA only. Only one language was needed: English.

Curiously, all exits are marked with arrows that point inwards. Only later became it custom to have arrows pointing outwards, in the direction of escape!

American Airlines, 1959

TWA, which introduced their first jet only two months after AA, also came with a double-sided, unfolded card for their 707. This was laminated, which would be a first. The presentation was similar to that of AA, minus the window exit, but with the supporting text appearing in four languages. The window exit and PSU/oxygen illustrations closely resemble those of AA, so was likely provided by Boeing.

United, already known for its very detailed safety information (see previous part), continued that policy for their new DC-8s and Boeing 720s. In its eight-page 1959 DC-8 folder, it uses a mix of illustrations and text, e.g. to explain how to use the seat-mounted oxygen masks.

United Airlines DC-8 overwater booklet, 1961

In 1953, United became the first airline to show how to open and use exits and continued as the first to do so for the jets. No other airline at the time showed how to open door exits (as opposed to window exits) and, in detail, how to attach and inflate the escape slides. In early DC-8s (and 707/720s) these were ceiling mounted and required quite a few actions before being operational. The illustrations shown are from the 1961 overwater DC-8 booklet edition, but the 1959 folder fielded the same.

United Airlines DC-8 overwater booklet, 1961

Qantas and Cathay

I’d like to share the details of two more leaflets. They are from two airlines deep in the eastern hemisphere: Qantas from Australia and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. Both do not fit the patterns described above as their leaflets are neither next iterations of a series, nor truly novel. Yet they are of interest as they have some features not seen elsewhere. They are from a Qantas 707 leaflet c. 1963 and from a Cathay Pacific fleet leaflet that dates from around 1966.

Both show emergency equipment locations, a practice not applied widely in those days. Cathay included the cockpit windows of their Convairs as emergency exits for passengers. This wasn’t something widely-practiced then, although some other Convair 880 operators did it as well, perhaps on instigation by Convair.

Qantas ordered the smallest 707 variant (which was even smaller than the 720), but I doubt whether their fuselage tapering was indeed as shown. Boeing was very keen on keeping constant diameter cabins, so perhaps Qantas’ artist was still a bit distracted by the curvatures of the 707’s predecessor, the Lockheed Super Constellation.

Qantas explained the use of the escape slides on their new jets by comparing them to, what looks to me, as a playground slide. Qantas explains that they “operate on the same principle as a slippery dip, or in the French translation: toboggan de plage, which, in turn, translates as beach slide.”

Cathay fleet leaflet 880/Electra, c. 1966
Qantas 707, c. 1963


The turn of the decade 1950s/1960s was not only marked by the introduction of the jets but also by increasing awareness that many accidents were survivable and passengers needed education on matters other than ditching. As a result, there were quite a few changes in what safety information was given to passengers and how it was presented. Let me summarize the main trends.

Less water, more land

As mentioned, in the 1950s it was realized that the ditching scenario was not unique in being survivable. Crash landings on land became more frequent and often turned out to be survived as well. The safety leaflets, booklets, and cards started to reflect this and the long lists of preparation for a ditching were replaced by information on opening window exits and using escape slides. Some major airlines that did not fly overwater and had never provided safety cards now started to do so. Life jacket and life raft information remained, but for overwater operations only.

Less reliance on crew, more self-help

Before, leaflets stated the crew would open exits and passengers had to obey their orders. An evacuation would be led by them and no further guidance was provided. This example is by Air India.

Air India 707 folder, c. 1960

In the new decade, passengers were called upon to take responsibility and help open exits. Opening instructions were given, especially for those exits near where they were seated. This was already recognized by TWA and United in the early 1940s (see previous part), but since then had faded away, perhaps overshadowed by the focus on ditching.

The new cards gave detailed floor plans (sometimes even showing all seats), evacuation routes, exit locations, and emergency exit operation. The jets brought automatic oxygen systems for which passenger education was considered essential. The cards were ideal for that, but as we have seen, not all airlines were ready for this so had to improvise by making impromptu cards.

Less text, more graphics

In the ditching years, text prevailed in the leaflets, often repeating the same message in many languages. PAWA and BOAC had up to eight different languages on their folders. This led to large folders with endless text in small print that even fond readers may have found hard to digest. The introduction of the jets coincided with illustrations replacing words. Text became of secondary purpose. This trend developed gradually into today’s graphics-only cards.

Fewer folders, more cards

More graphics and less text meant the large folders could be compressed on smaller but heavier paper. The term safety card started to become a reality.

Less fleets, more type-specific

A trend that was slightly less pronounced was that of single aircraft type leaflets/cards replacing entire fleet leaflets/cards. Many airlines still found it convenient to have a leaflet that would suit all the aircraft in their fleet. I estimate at the turn of the decade, about half of the airlines used fleet leaflets, sometimes showing up to five or six different aircraft types, such as BOAC and SAS as shown above. But how would passengers know which aircraft type they were on? Perhaps it was mentioned in their ticket folder or at the start of the flight, but would they remember that when consulting the card or worse, when they needed to heed its lessons?

Other airlines issued separate leaflets or cards per aircraft type, such as American Airlines and TWA. Interestingly, a hybrid form came into use, made possible by the fact that the trio of early US jets had the same exit pattern. American Airlines used one and the same card for the 707, 720, and 990, collectively called the Astrojet. The exit pair that did not exist on the 720 and 990 was dashed.

American Airlines, c. 1962

There was one airline that flew all three first-generation US jets: Varig from Brazil. This was not by careful fleet development choice, but rather by inheritance. Varig itself, in 1960, had bought the Boeing 707. When it took over REAL in 1961 it inherited its order for three Convair 990s. And when in 1965, Panair was amalgamated into Varig, its two DC-8s were added to Varig’s fleet. Varig used a single safety card for the three types. Only the asterisks on the aft pair of window exits, explained as ‘Boeing and DC-8 only,’ betray this was indeed the case. (see Brian Barron’s contribution for entire card).

VARIG, c. 1965

Survivability issues

As the decade unfolded, jets became involved in accidents, some of which raised survivability issues. These triggered a host of cabin safety improvements later in the decade, including that safety cards were mandated by law. More about that in the next part.

August 2022
Email: f.schaefers@planet.nl

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History of Safety Cards, Part 2: The Ditching Decade

By Fons Schaefers

Trammel Again

World War Two confirmed the United States (US) as the leader of world civil aviation. The war, which started in Europe and lasted the longest there, caused the European players to lose the dominant position they had gained in the pioneer years of the 1920s and 1930s. In the United States, civil aviation could develop fairly uninterrupted. The Douglas DC-3 became the norm in air travel from 1936 onwards and throughout the war years. It solidified the dominant position that the United States, by now, had reached in civil aviation not only in terms of technology and traffic volume but, also in terms of safety regulatory standards. A position that it has kept ever since.

In the first part of this series, we saw the very first signs of what we now know as cabin safety. An improvement in exit marking and lighting was made in response to the 1943 Trammel accident, but there was also the issue of the exit handles not being apparent to passengers. Coming back to the question about the first safety card in the US, it was brought to my attention that two airlines introduced specific printed instructions to passengers. Presumably, they were inspired by Trammel.

United Airlines added to its flight information folder an item on the location of the control of the ‘auxiliary exits’ in their DC-3s.

United Airlines, c. 1943
TWA, c. 1943

TWA went a step further and added in its “Welcome aboard” folder detailed cabin diagrams of the three DC-3 versions in their fleet indicating exits and equipment. I reproduce the model 277 which has the cabin door at the RH rear side. Instructions for operating the three auxiliary exits are given below the diagram. No instructions were given for opening the main door, however.

While not being true safety cards, these two publications can certainly be seen as forerunners.

Ditching Safety Leaflets

Proper leaflets dedicated entirely to passenger safety followed in the year immediately after the end of the war. Their subject invariably was passenger preparation for ditching. I am aware of leaflets first issued by Pan American World Airways (PAWA), American Overseas Airlines (AOA) and BOAC in 1946, Air France in 1947, SAS[1] and United Airlines in 1948 and TWA and Panagra in 1949. More airlines would follow in the 1950s, as we will see later. Here are some front pages. AOA was the international arm of American Airlines. It flew to Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and West Germany. The three languages (English, Dutch and Swedish) represent these countries, except for Germany. It may well be that the volume of German passengers in those years was too low to merit the extra translation. AOA was bought by PAWA in 1950. PAWA’s leaflet shown is the 1947 issue.

American Overseas Airlines
Pan American World Airways, c. 1947

[1]SAS called their ditching leaflets ‘Safety at Sea’ so as to alliterate with their own name.

British Overseas Airways Corporation
Air France
Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra)

What caused this surge of safety leaflets and why were they all about ditching? The answer is threefold.

Still fresh in contemporary minds was a notable water accident that occurred just before the war. On its way from New York to Bermuda on January 21, 1939, an Imperial Airways Short Empire flying boat named Cavalier had to make a forced landing halfway along its oceanic journey. It broke up upon impact and sank shortly after. All 13 occupants had survived the impact, but three drowned. The flying boat had no life rafts on board and, for that matter, neither did it have seat belts. The only life-saving equipment on board was 22 ‘seat-type’ and six ‘crew-type’ ‘rubber life belts’ (life vests)[1]. Of these 28 life vests only eight were used, four of each. The survivors clung to them for 10 hours in the water, which was moderately warm, before rescue came. The British Air Ministry Inspector of Accidents made a list of recommendations for safety improvements on flying boats, including life rafts as standard equipment and instructing passengers on the fastening of seat belts on take-off and landings, the pointing out of emergency exits and how to fasten life-belts. It was noted that ‘an illustrated notice showing how life-belts should be put on was displayed in each cabin of the flying boat. This, I assume was a fixed message similar to those carried on ferry boats.

[1]Press summary of Report of the Investigation of the Accident to the Imperial Airways aircraft G-ADUU (Cavalier) on January 21, 1939, Office of the Air Attaché British Embassy, Washington D.C., March 25, 1939.

During the war considerable experience had been gained with transoceanic flying, albeit with military transport aircraft. In about 1 per 1,000 crossings[1] they had to make a water landing on the ocean, which became known as a ‘ditching’. The survivability rate was about 30%. This experience, together with that of Cavalier, may well have inspired the US Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to issue a regulation for increasing the chances of surviving a ditching:

‘The crew of aircraft used in overwater flights shall be drilled periodically in “abandon ship” procedures. Passengers shall be acquainted with the location of emergency exits, with emergency equipment provided for individual use, and with the procedure to be followed in the case of an emergency landing on the water.’[2]

This regulation, which was part of a whole set of new regulations, applied from September 1945 but only to U.S. carriers flying ‘outside the continental limits of the United States.’ At the time, they were only PAWA, AOA and TWA. In 1947 they were joined by United Airlines which started to fly to Hawaii and Northwest Airlines which connected the US with Japan and China.

[1]Human Factors in Air Transport Design, Ross A. McFarland, 1946, p. 534

[2]U.S. Civil Air Regulations, 41.507 Use of emergency equipment, effective September 1, 1945

Thirdly, the Search and Rescue (SAR) division of the then still provisional International Civil Aviation Organization issued in December 1946 recommendations for the briefing of passengers: before take-off, on the use of safety belts and the location of emergency exits; after take-off, on life jackets and other emergency equipment. In the case of an in-flight emergency, passengers should be further briefed in anticipation of an impact that, more likely than not, would be on water.

Thus, the focus of the new requirement and recommendations for briefing passengers was on overwater flights and an emergency landing on water. There was no equivalent requirement for an emergency landing on land. Why not? To answer that question, we have to study accidents of the time. They typically occurred during the cruise portion of a flight. Even in the cases where the aircraft remained controllable, impact landings on land tended to be fatal to all. The 1943 Trammel case had been an exception, but only partial, with two survivors out of 20 occupants. The Cavalier accident and the military services however had demonstrated that a ditching could be well survivable.

So, now that the war was over and commercial air transport was to grow in size and span oceans, a ditching was recognized as the principal survivable accident scenario. They were therefore prone to regulatory support. The form chosen was to mandate that airlines ‘acquaint with’ or brief passengers about ditching procedures. Nowhere were leaflets or booklets mandated, but airlines found they served the purpose.

A Closer Look

Studying these instructions and keeping in mind current practices, a number of differences in tone and directions stand out. The key message was that of aviation being safe, the crew having been thoroughly trained and always in control in which its authority was never to be questioned (see PAWA illustrations above and below).

A ditching, it was believed at the time, would not come sudden but announced, with plenty of time to prepare for it. On the part of passengers, that meant loosening the tie, removing sharp objects, taking off spectacles and high-heeled shoes, putting on warm clothes and then a life vest, sit tightly strapped in and, when so ordered, brace for impact. There was no common opinion on what to do with seatbacks: some airlines said upright, others said recline as much as possible. For some airlines, the brace position for forward row passengers was to sit on the floor with the back against a bulkhead (see illustration Air France 1953).

Opening exits, if even mentioned at all, was to be left to the crew. The American airlines typically added a layout of the aircraft with exit and raft locations, while in Europe this was less common. PAWA included a detailed graph of the life raft and the survival pack contents on their leaflets (see illustration below).

PAWA and BOAC issued new versions of their safety leaflets almost every year. United, TWA and Northwest, on the other hand, stuck to their original designs for at least a decade, only changing them to match fleet updates. For the other airlines, changes were more random.

PAWA, c. 1947
PAWA, c. 1947
Air France, 1953

BOAC’s 1946 folder explained life jackets and rafts, called ‘dinghies,’ but did not have a layout of the aircraft, nor any explanation about where the exits were or how they opened. Yet, seat belts were explained. Contrary to the Americans, who only advised the use of seat belts in preparation for an emergency landing, BOAC advised that the seat belts ‘should be fastened when the aircraft is taxiing[1], taking off or landing’. Clearly, that stemmed from the Cavalier accident recommendations.

[1]The addition of taxiing is particularly noteworthy as that was many decades ahead of becoming common practice in the rest of the world, except that SAS also had this in their safety instructions.

BOAC seat belt instructions

For aircraft not equipped with pressurized cabins, oxygen masks were explained by BOAC.

BOAC oxygen mask instructions

In the 1947 BOAC folder exits were mentioned for the first time, but not depicted. It said, “there are ample emergency exits on all Speedbirds which will be pointed out to you by a member of the crew before take-off.” Also added was a single text line about desert packs ‘containing rations and water’ being carried, as well as ‘very comprehensive First-Aid Packs.’ The portion about the oxygen mask now cautioned ‘please don’t confuse this with a gas mask. It does not have to fit tight.’ With the war still fresh in people’s minds, passengers apparently had made this comparison when reading the earlier version.

Aircraft Diagrams

The summum bonum of 1950s luxury flying was the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. To give an impression of how cabin diagrams were rendered in safety leaflets, here are five of them, by as many different airlines, so you can compare. BOAC chose to only show the aircraft from outside, with the exits marked with arrows. Conversely Northwest did not point out any exit, but only emergency equipment, using an engineering drawing of the cabin. Yet, on a closer look, the escape ropes gave a hint as to where exits were, at least for those not over the wings. Over-wing exits needed no ropes. The other three airlines also used cabin plans, all in their own fashion, showing both the exits and emergency equipment. They were oriented with the front of the aircraft at the top, matching the compass of a forward-facing passenger. All Stratocruisers had the lower lobe lounge, but only one airline, PAWA, marked its exits, plus that of the storage area ahead of the wings. There are many other interesting features in these layouts such as the spacious, gender-specific washrooms. They are clearly identified in the AOA layout and can also be recognized in the United and Northwest samples.

United Airlines, 1949
AOA, 1949
PAWA, 1958
BOAC, 1958
Northwest Airlines, 1952

Cozy Rafts and Duck Landings

The texts in the safety leaflets were light-hearted so as not to put off passengers by emphasizing the dangers of flying. Phrases were used like:

life vests are fashionable in emergency landings. Yours is bright yellow and quite handsomely tailored


Brace for impact – careful the order is not embrace!’                                                       

Similarly, entertaining cartoons were used, often showing a life raft as a cozy place to be. Here is a collection. Click on each image to enlarge.

Other airlines preferred the analogy to ducks. Shown are Northwest, 1952, and Hawaiian, 1963.

Ditching experience

So, with all the focus on ditching, did they indeed occur, and were life rafts lifesavers? The first recorded use of a life raft, ironically, was not on water, but in a desert, giving shade and shelter. That was following the crash on June 18, 1947 of Clipper Eclipse, a PAWA Lockheed Constellation, in Syria. Star Trek aficionados will likely know this accident. Its creator, Eugene Roddenberry, was the third officer and took a leading role as the two pilots were killed upon impact. In this crash, out of 37 occupants, 22 survived and were rescued.

The first reported ditching was in 1949. Until about 1963, on average one ditching occurred per year, worldwide, making the 1950s the ditching decade. In all cases, it involved piston-engine airliners. Other than as initially predicted and thus advertised in the safety instructions, most were sudden with no time for preparation. On the positive side, many were close to shore rather than mid-ocean, facilitating quick rescue. The survival rate was high; in some cases even 100%.

A new accident scenario

But another accident scenario quickly overtook that of the ditching in terms of numbers and survivability issues and, thus, the need for cabin safety measures. That scenario is the survivable accident involving a fire, at or near an airport.

It first happened three weeks before the Syrian crash, on May 29, 1947. United Airlines flight 521, a DC-4, failed to lift off at New York-La Guardia. It crossed the airport perimeter and half bounced, half flew until it came to rest 800 ft beyond the runway. It caught fire immediately and many occupants perished as they were unable to escape. In a congressional hearing in February 1950, it was testified that ‘passengers were seen by witnesses drumming on the inside of cabin windows, burning to death.’[1] The formal accident investigation by the CAB did not go into any of the survivability issues. Its report, issued after many preventive measures had been taken, concluded that ‘all action that it seems sensible to take has already been taken’. In hindsight, this was quite a cynical comment, as no cabin safety measure had been taken at all, let alone even considered. It needed a second accident before the CAB realized that their focus should not only be on preventing accidents to happen in the first place, but also when they do occur, on survivability issues. In their report on the January 21, 1948, Eastern Constellation crash at Boston they said that ‘this accident forcibly points to the necessity for the development of more suitable passenger evacuation facilities’. In that accident, some passengers survived but, had to jump a distance of more than 15 feet from the airplane to the ground.

[1]Hearings before a subcommittee of the (U.S. Congress House) committee on interstate and foreign commerce, February 14, 1950.

Many similar accidents would follow and in numbers and dramatic impact soon eclipsed the forced ditchings. From two different angles, scientists recognized this serious trend and started tests to collect data to understand the mechanisms of fire spread and airliner evacuation respectively. The Medical Division of the Office of Aviation Safety of the US Civil Aeronautics Administration (now FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute) organized evacuation studies and live tests in 1951 and 1952, jointly with the George Washington University, the US Air Force and three airlines: American Airlines, PAWA and TWA. This gave insight into the limitations imposed by exit sizes, sill-to-ground distance and descent assist means as well as human performance and interaction during evacuations. A new regulatory formula was drafted for prescribing exit numbers, sizes and locations which in essence is still in use today.

In the same period, NACA (now NASA) conducted full-scale tests in which self-propelled Curtiss C-46 and Fairchild C-82 aircraft sped along a monorail into concrete obstacles to study fuel fire ignition and propagation patterns and their effect on survival time for occupants.

Although the two scientific programs were done in isolation from each other, their results were merged and ripened the idea of a maximum evacuation time. Even before that, already in December 1951, the CAB had proposed a 90-second evacuation time limit but, this met with resistance from operators. The scientific evidence, aggravated by many more accidents, was needed to overcome that. Eventually, more than one and a half-decade later, a firm evacuation demonstration time limit was introduced, with conditions tighter than those proposed in 1951. More about this in a later part.

The airlines did not pick up the new accident trend as quickly. Rather, over the decade more airlines issued ditching safety instructions. In North America, these were Braniff, Canadian Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines and Trans-Canada Airlines. In Europe, Iberia (Spain), LAI (Italy), KLM (Netherlands), Olympic Airways (Greece), Sabena (Belgium) and TAI (France). In the rest of the world such major airlines as Avianca (Colombia), Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong), Civil Air Transport (Taiwan), JAL (Japan) and TACA (El Salvador) educated their passengers on ditching preparations.

Three front pages of typical 1950s ditching leaflets are reproduced: Iberia, Eastern Air Lines and KLM.

Eastern Airlines

United’s egress

There was one airline that did recognize at an early stage the land evacuation scenario as serious and dedicated a safety leaflet to it. Not surprisingly, this was United Airlines, the airline of the 1947 La Guardia accident. Its president since 1934, William Patterson was known to care about the happiness and welfare of others and, like others, must have been deeply touched by that accident. From a 1981 biography: ‘Concern for safety had always been a major deterrent to airline travel, and improved safety was one of “Pat” Patterson’s major goals. During his 36 years with United, he personally inspected close to 70 percent of United’s accidents in order to obtain a personal feel for the extent of loss and the hardships brought upon the persons involved[1].’

When the ‘coach’ class was introduced in 1952 under strict CAB regulations, this meant lower fares, which would reduce revenue. To compensate for that, aircraft passenger capacities had to be increased. US airlines were happy to do so, but one: United Airlines. Patterson used the ‘evacuation card’ (no pun intended) to try and reverse this trend which in his view was unsafe. He staged, with the help of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory of Buffalo, New York, a series of full-scale evacuations of a 66-seat DC-4 (the normal seating on a United DC-4 was 44, so a 50% increase). Passengers were offered a scenic ride over Niagara Falls, then land back at Buffalo where a surprise evacuation was ordered. In one case, the aircraft actually did develop a major engine problem and reportedly landed at Syracuse![2] The results he would then use to try and convince the CAB that increasing capacities would be hazardous. This plan did not work out[3],[4]. Yet, possibly as a follow-on to those tests, United Airlines introduced in early 1953 a safety folder specific to the land evacuation scenario for its domestic, non-overwaterDC-4s and DC-6s. This leaflet, in style and appearance, was completely different from the ditching leaflet used for the overwater fleet. It was called ‘the egress’ and issued in both a yellow as well as a blue version. A later revision (c. 1956) is also known. Note that the main doors are equipped with an escape chute but others only have a rope.

[1]William A. Patterson of United Airlines, Richard E. Hattwick, Journal of Behavioral Economics, Volume 10, Issue 2, Winter 1981.

[2]transcript of Emergency Evacuation Technical Conference, Seattle, September 6, 1985, Volume IV, p. 622.

[3]Aviation Week December 8, 1952.

[4]Regulation of Air Coach Service Standards, Stanley Berge, Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Volume 20, Issue 1, 1953.

The Egress-United Airlines, c. 1953
The Egress-United Airlines, c. 1953

Chutes replace ropes

Towards the end of the decade airlines did add safety instructions for emergency landings on land in addition to, or instead of, those on water. At the same time, passengers were no longer briefed to wait for the crew to open exits, they were instructed how to open them themselves (see Sabena illustration below), or how to deploy and use escape chutes.

The chutes needed to be held taut by two ‘able bodied persons’ who had to jump down first. Still, they formed an improvement over the escape ropes and Jacob’s ladders that were the only descent assist means a few years before. A glance at the instructions for attaching floor straps to ensure that the chute would work will tell you that this would not be easy, especially for novices under stressful conditions. Yet, that was the state-of-the-art in 1957. Self-supporting, inflatable escape slides were about to be invented.

PAWA, c. 1958
BOAC, 1957
Sabena, 1957


How were the safety leaflets circulated? The pre-war practice of issuing flight information packets (‘kits’) to passengers with a host of promotional material was continued well into the 1950s. In a pocketed folder were stacked such items as postcards, route maps, timetables, suggestion forms, stationary, destination brochures and even small dictionaries. Somewhere inconspicuously hidden in between was the safety folder. All was for the passenger to keep as a souvenir. No ‘do not remove from aircraft’ caveats yet. That would come later, as we will see in a future edition of this series. But before that we will look in the next edition what the beginning of the jet age meant for safety cards.

Illustrations reproduced from author’s collection, except for United and TWA 1943 and United ‘s ‘The Egress.’

March 2022
Email: f.schaefers@planet.nl

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The History of Safety Cards, Part One: The Pioneer Years (1920s through 1945)

By Fons Schaefers

This new series of articles covers the development over the years of airliner safety cards and will span almost a century. Safety cards include all those pamphlets, cards and other paper material that an airline makes available on aircraft to inform passengers about safety features available to them. This ranges from do’s and dont’s for each flight, like donning the safety belt and switching off electronics, to equipment and procedures only to be used in an emergency such as an evacuation.

The first six articles chronologically review the development of safety cards whilst the next six (or so) deal with different themes. Currently, I am thinking about the following themes, but if readers have other suggestions, I am happy to adapt: appearance/artwork/contents catalog/efficacy/makers/ special user groups/spin-off cards/unique aircraft.

The history of safety cards parallels that of cabin safety. Its continuous changes are driven by technological improvements, accident lessons, associated regulatory developments and, overarching, the increasing social recognition of safety. In each article, I will sketch the evolution of cabin safety as background to the development of the cards.

1924 – 1934, EUROPE

Not long after passengers were first carried by airplanes, pamphlets addressing passenger safety features appeared. But what were those features? As compared to today’s, they were primitive and largely borrowed from the marine world. Fire extinguishers, first-aid kits and flare pistols were installed in airplanes because they were on ships and considered a token necessity. For overwater flights, life vests were added. Unique to airplanes were safety belts, but these, particularly in America, initially were only installed to prevent persons falling out of open cockpits and not necessarily to restrain them in case of heavy impacts. Emergency exits were prescribed in the very first of airplane design regulations, but this was limited to how many were needed: initially only two, and that included the passenger entrance door. Only later, the nascent regulations got more specific as to how large they needed to be, the ease of operation, marking, lighting, etc.

Although forerunners of today’s safety cards, early passenger safety pamphlets barely meet the definition of a safety card. Imperial Airways, the predecessor of BOAC and thus British Airways, issued them around 1930. I show two examples. The first, coded IA/F/30, so presumably from 1930, explains ‘the normal movements of an Aeroplane in flight,’ ‘how to travel with the greatest comfort’ and ‘the precautions which are taken against and the action to be taken in an emergency.’ In the latter category fall a no-smoking rule, a means of communication with the pilot (‘through the aperture in the front of the cabin’) and instructions how to wear the ‘lifebelt.’ For traveling with comfort, the pamphlet recommends passengers ‘to place cotton wool in their ears to deaden the noise caused by the engines’. Windows could be opened or shut as desired, it further says, without explaining why this was needed at times. Contemporary reports suggest it was to let in fresh air and to remove the stench created by passengers suffering from airsickness and perhaps using the cuspidors that the pamphlet says are provided.

The 1930 sample, reproduced below, has two penciled annotations: ‘The channel looks rough’ and
‘I think Lindberg was a wonder, don’t you?’ For those passengers not trained in sign language, writing on the pamphlet may well have been the only way to communicate during flight, as the engine noise made voices inaudible.

Imperial Airways – probably 1930

A 1931 edition of the Imperial pamphlet adds information about emergency exits (‘provided in the roof of the cabins,’ ‘clearly marked’). It is well possible that this pamphlet was not handed out on board but rather already available at sales offices as it also includes information on how to book, dress and obtain foreign money. Note the chauvinist message on the last page: ‘Imperial aircraft and engines are of British design and manufacture and are flown by British pilots.’

Imperial Airways – 1931

KLM, the Dutch flag airline that was the first in the world to celebrate its centennial (in 2019), in its pioneer years issued ‘travelers suggestions.’ I reproduce a German version, coded ’4-34 7500,’ presumably issued in April 1934 in a stock of 7500. Like the Imperial Airways sample, it starts with an explanation of how an aeroplane takes off, how high it flies (typically 400 meters, about 1,300 ft) and that engine power is reduced for landing. It mentions that windows can be opened but warns not to throw anything out. Airsickness, it continues in a propagandistic stance, is predominantly imaginary and can be prevented by ‘freeing oneself from nervous thoughts,’ using a map to follow the airplane’s track or reading a book or magazine. The life vest is explained but, unlike Imperial Airways, only by using text, not graphics. It mentions the emergency exit in the roof as an alternative to the entrance door. The door between cabin and cockpit can be used to communicate with the pilot in case of an emergency. Like with Imperial Airways, this was through a hole in the door. A feature that will amaze today’s passengers is that wires (‘Drahtberichte’) could be sent and received by
passengers via the radiotelegraphist. This service was introduced in June 1933, so still new when this leaflet was produced.

KLM 1934

The airplane pictured looks like the 3-engined Fokker F.VII/3m, a type already in use, albeit with a single engine, since 1924. The fuselage was made of a steel tubular framework covered with linen. The wings were of wood as was the interior furnishing.

There are indications that KLM issued similar instructions in its home language (Dutch) much earlier than 1934, possibly even as early as 1924. In 1969, at the occasion of their half-century existence, KLM published a celebration book1. In it is a small reproduction of a concise pamphlet, ranked as being from 1924, that sums up, in Dutch, the safety essentials of the day:

Smoking is dangerous, so not allowed

Do not throw anything out the window as that may
cause fatal accidents

To contact the pilot in case of an emergency, hand a
note through the door

Passengers are requested to use safety belts for take-off
off and landing

Do not open the door until the engine has stopped

Leave via emergency exit when door is blocked

It is dangerous to touch the emergency
exit during flight

It is not known whether this leaflet was permanently onboard or handed out to passengers before flight. I am not aware of any other contemporary safety pamphlets, but it may well be that other airlines issued them as well, particularly in Europe, where the advent of regular passenger air transport preceded that in America by almost a decade.

1 Vlucht KL-50, Leonard de Vries, 1969

1935, OXYGEN

In 1934, KLM replaced on the main routes the Fokkers with the aluminum, higher performance Douglas DC-2.
This type was able to climb well higher and thus cross the Alps on the route to Italy. And so it did, flying at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters (about 16,400 feet). It was equipped with neither a pressurized cabin nor supplemental oxygen.

One day in July, 1935, KLM’s DC-2 Gaai (Jay), originating from Milan-Taliedo on its way to Frankfurt, flew at 5,000 metres when it went into trouble, got trapped in a valley in the southern Alps and crashed.

It’s possible a contributing factor was the pilot suffering from lack of oxygen, though the accident report does not mention this. KLM stopped flying that route until it had installed supplemental oxygen provisions for both crew and passengers. By that time it employed stewardesses, whose tasks included handing out a leaflet to passengers when to use oxygen. It does not explain how to use oxygen. I assume that the how was explained at the time of boarding. The leaflet is in five languages (Dutch, German, Italian, English, French) and reproduced adjacently2. It may be the first subject-specific passenger safety pamphlet.

Worldwide, very few routes were being operated at the time with supplemental oxygen. Panagra’s trans-Andean route was probably the single exception before KLM introduced it. In the USA, the Rocky Mountains were negotiated without it. In those days the effects of oxygen at altitude were not well understood. Only towards the end of the decade, Ross McFarland and others published their scientific research, which led to the introduction of oxygen rules for US airlines in 19413. These only prescribed oxygen provisions for crew. Oxygen regulations for passengers came much later, as we will see in the next article.

2 source: Schiphol uitstappen!, Hilda Bongertman, 1935
3 CAB, Federal Register February 6, 1941


The earliest mention of a US airline passenger safety pamphlet that I came across is in the 4 October 1943 edition of Aviation Week. It announces that Chicago and Southern Air Lines (which merged 10 years later with Delta) ponders about it, following a suggestion from a newspaper.

Based on that article, and searching for what likely triggered it, here is my version of the sequence of events.

1. In July 1943, an American DC-3 on its way from Louisville, KY to Memphis, TN via Nashville, TN, crashed in the dark near Trammel, KY. Of 20 occupants, only two survived. From their testimony, it appeared that the crash was survivable in the cabin, as opposed to the cockpit. The stewardess apparently had trouble opening the entrance door from the inside. She and most of the passengers were later found dead near that door. The culprit, it was determined, was a safety catch that had to be released before the door could be opened, although the door itself may have been distorted by the impact and therefore did not open. Only one passenger tried to open emergency exits (only the third attempt was successful) and survived. He stated that earlier in flight, he had explained the exit handle to another passenger, who was apparently unaware that he sat next to an emergency exit. That passenger did not survive. The other survivor could crawl out of the airplane via a hole in the front.

2. Late in October, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB, forerunner of the FAA) issued a rule that exits be marked as such and illuminated4. Such a rule did not exist at the time. In addition, it proposed a rule to ensure that exits could be opened by the operation of one handle only5.

3. Somewhat earlier, a Memphis newspaper ran an editorial ‘pointing out that passengers are not aware of the auxiliary exits and are unfamiliar with their operation.‘

4. Memphis-based Chicago and Southern Airlines picked this up and, according to the October 4 article, proposed exit marking and lighting improvements and ‘make further effort to tell passengers how to use them in event of emergency.’ The latter would include a pamphlet in the seat pocket.

I do not know whether Chicago and Southern actually did make such a pamphlet. Perhaps a reader knows? But if they did, it might well have been the first safety card by a US airline.

4CAB, Amendment 61-13, published in the Federal Register on October 28, 1943
5 CAB, Draft Release no. 43, issued November 8, 1943

1944, RAF

Toward the latter years of World War II, the British Royal Air Force had set up air transport services to ferry staff, mostly pilots, across the North Atlantic as well as to other destinations where they were needed for the war.

Equipment included the Dakota (the name that the British gave to the Douglas C-47) and the Consolidated Liberator. As most of these services went over water, the risk of a ditching was high. The RAF provided safety pamphlets to instruct passengers about the ditching and dinghy drill.

I reproduce leaflets for both types in full. The Dakota one is fairly large (36 * 72 cm/14.2 * 38.4 inch, unfolded), the Liberator’s is smaller (25 * 50 cm/ 10 * 20 inch, unfolded). Both show similar artwork, but the Dakota’s was made by ‘F.&C. LTD’ whereas the Liberator’s says ‘W.R.R. & Sons Ltd.’, so were made by different companies. Perhaps the artwork style was en vogue in those days. The codes on both pamphlets include the number 51, but I do not think that refers to the year they were made. Based on internet research about when there was a peak in military air transport using Dakotas and particularly Liberators, I conclude they stem from around 1944.

Both pamphlets have a lot of graphics, with text supporting it, rather than the opposite. The texts are identical, save for airplane type specific elements, so will have been specified by the Air Ministry that ordered the pamphlets. Both show the aircraft cabin with passengers. In the Liberator there are 18 males in a 2 abreast forward seating layout. The Dakota leaflet is less precise in number and has a mix of male and female passengers in a 2 abreast ‘armchair type’ forward facing seating layout, but it also shows the sideward facing ‘metal bucket’ seating.

The leaflets prescribe the ditching drill in quite some detail and in several steps. On the preparatory pages, the safety belt and the impact posture are shown, plus the flotation devices: the dinghy (life raft) and the individual life vest. The Royal Air Force called the latter a Mae West, after the full-bosomed American actress. According to a letter that she sent to the service, she was quite pleased that her name was used for this purpose.

It is a pleasure to study these nice pamphlets and see them as precursors to the many civilian safety cards that would follow.

In the next article in this series, I will focus on the period 1946 – 1950s, in which ditchings continue to be seen as a serious menace the effects of which can be mitigated, at least to some extent, by means of safety cards.

Photographs courtesy of the author’s collection.

November 2021
Email: f.schaefers@planet.nl

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seatback Pocket IV

Aircraft Safety Cards
Jet Aircraft – Part 2

Written by Lester Anderson


As I explained in a Propeller Aircraft Safety Card Article, Eastern was my favorite airline. Part of the reason was because when they first opened airline clubs to the general public for a fee, I was an early participant in being a member. That started with a one-year membership paid to upgrade to a 5-year membership and finally to a lifetime membership, all within a 12-month period. Business travel without a membership in an airline club to confirm and change flights (or rebook due to a flight cancellation) can be a nightmare. I paid considerably more (but it was worth it) for memberships in the Delta Crown Room Club and the United Red Carpet Club during my peak business travel years.  I am very grateful my Eastern Ionosphere Club membership evolved into a Continental Presidents Club membership, and now is a United Club membership.

But back to Eastern, the fact that I am in the NY metro area and my personal and business travel was often on the east coast, Eastern was a natural.

My collection probably had more Eastern safety cards, most all removed from aircraft on which I flew.

The Eastern 720 emergency card is a little unusual because it is more a “what to do in case of a water landing” card rather than a general “on land” emergency card. This card most probably came from a “gate visit” at Idlewild (Kennedy) airport.

I flew many an Eastern DC-9, mainly to and from Atlanta. I was one of the people who really enjoyed the 3-2 seating in economy.


This 727 card, dated 6/65 is an early version for Eastern. I flew on one about a year after the “Whisperjet” introduction, and I remember the mid-cabin galley. I also remember sitting across from it and being amazed that instead of the little bottles of liquor, there were full size bottles mounted on the cabin wall, with an automatic dispenser of one portion for each drink. That has nothing to do with flying directly, but one of those things that were of interest at the time and that I remember from my youth.

While I enjoyed the memories of these cards (and the many flights on which I flew), it also brought up some mysteries for me. My favorite Eastern aircraft was the L-1011, on which I flew many times. Yet I have no card.  Nor do I have one for the L-1011 on Delta on which I also frequently flew (alas, I flew neither TWA or Pan Am TriStars). I cannot believe I did not take at least one, but they are nowhere to be found. I also think of the many New York Air MD-80 flights I took, and the Delta DC-8 flights that have great memories, but no cards. Maybe there is a black hole that remotely collects cards that are marked “Please Do Not Remove This Card From The Aircraft” – which might explain it all.

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seatback Pocket III

Aircraft Safety Cards and Seating Diagrams
Propeller Aircraft – Part 2
Eastern; Continental; United; BOAC

Written by Lester Anderson

Jet Aircraft – Part 1
United; TWA; Mohawk; American

For those of you who have not yet seen the Prop Aircraft articles on safety cards, these images are from cards I collected since the 1960s. Some from aircraft on which I actually flew. Some from being a teenager interested in airplanes and asking a gate agent if I could go on board to look at the airplane. In those days, security was minimal and if you asked nicely, you were usually given permission.

All the images seen in these articles are from a collection donated to the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey. Since both I and the museum have the images, at my suggestion the museum (always in need of money) sold them on eBay and added about $3,500 to its financial resources. I bring this up because as I write this, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and virtually every other museum and cultural organization is suffering from the worst financial disaster in history with the Corona Virus. May I humbly recommend that if you enjoy these articles, please contribute to the charity of your choice.


My first airplane flight was from LGA to PHL on a Northeast DC-6B. The return flight was PHL to EWR on a United Caravelle. And just as they say about your first love, the Caravelle has a special place in my heart. (As an item of trivia, although this “seat card” was a mere piece of paper, neither card stock nor laminated, it brought into the museum the highest price of any of the seat cards, $420)

The Early Boeing 720 Emergency cards were also single sheets of paper, neither card stock nor laminated. Note that although a swept wing jet, the over wing window exits still used a rope for egress.


I am very happy I had in my collection a TWA Convair 880 emergency card. The Aviation Hall of Fame has a former TWA Convair 880 cockpit, galley, and part of the first-class cabin on display and now they have an authentic TWA emergency card as well.




This BAC One-Eleven I flew on (on a “weekends unlimited excursion”) from Albany to Newark. I am told that the flight crew referred to the BAC-111 as a “roman candle” because although it had engines in the back, the only door exits in the entire aircraft were at the front of the cabin.

American Airlines

I only flew a 720 once, and that was a 45 minute “flightseeing tour” on TWA for a fare of $5 from Idlewild airport. These cards came from a gate visit or possibly from a weekend open house at Newark Airport.

Stay tuned for the next (and last) chapter of these cards—devoted to some of the jets of Eastern Airlines.
Lester Anderson


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Musings from a Passenger’s Seatback Pocket II

Aircraft Safety Cards and Seating Charts
Propeller Aircraft – Part 2
Eastern; Continental; United; BOAC

Written by Lester Anderson


I admit without any hesitation that Eastern was my favorite airline. Part of that was due to the fact that when they first opened airline clubs to the general public for a fee, around 1974, I was an early participant in being a member. I started with a one-year membership ($25) then was upgraded to a 5-year membership ($99 more) then to a lifetime membership, ($300 more) all within a 12-month period. The fact that I live in the NY metro area and that my personal and business travel was often on the east coast made Eastern a natural in terms of flight frequency, and also gave me the advantage of being able to stop in an Ionosphere Club, often at both origin and destination airports.


This Continental seating chart is most probably a ticket counter advertisement as opposed to an in-aircraft safety card (because it does not show emergency exit locations or operation).



Another major player at Newark (although not nearly what they are today) was United. I did fly on the United Vickers Viscount. The thing I remember most about the flight, other than it was a great one) was I could sit over the wings and see the operation of the props.  The engines run at a constant rotation in flight, with the forward thrust controlled by the pitch or angle of the propeller blade.  On the United Viscount, there were markings on the prop and the hub of the propeller and you could see visually (as well hear and feel) as the plane react to the  pilot’s commands for more or less (or reverse) thrust.


Newark airport, which had a great observation deck, was an ideal spot to look at the Viscounts, the D-6’s and DC-7’s that were still very much in use (for shorter flights) from Newark Airport. If I recall, most of the EWR flights that were coast to coast were one stop or more.  Nonstop flights were mainly from Idlewild (later JFK).



This came from a travel agent.  About 3 miles from my house was an accommodating travel agency who would give me a copy of the old Official Airline Guide every so often.  I believe the OAG came out twice a month and were (for those who remember phone books) about the size of a major city phone book.  It fit nicely in my bicycle basket and gave me great reading pleasure.

If I recall this was a promotional brochure from BOAC that the travel agency gave out.  My guess is they knew I liked airplanes (I was getting the OAG) so they put this aside for me.

I never flew a Britannia, but I did see them from the International Arrivals Building observation deck at Idlewild, in New York.

Because of my interest in airplanes, while working at my college radio station, I put myself on PR lists for any airlines I could.  I recall getting a release about a charity event that BOAC was sponsoring.  The thing I recall was a stern message to the radio stations that the airline was to be called B O A C (four letters) not a called a word formed by the letters (pronounced like “Bowack”).


I hope you enjoyed this Prop series of articles.   The next series of articles consist of Jet aircraft.  
Lester Anderson

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seatback Pocket I

Aircraft Safety Cards
Propeller Aircraft – Part 1
Northeast; Mohawk; American; Braniff; Northwest; TWA

Written by Lester Anderson

There are many people (often politicians) who seek forgiveness for past actions calling them “youthful indiscretions.” I seek such absolution for my activities starting in the 1960’s, not for sex or drugs (or rock and roll), but because my youthful indiscretion is that, whenever I could, I would take (I prefer “borrow” to steal) the emergency card from an airplane.

Many of the cards in this image collection are from aircraft I flew. But back in the more innocent 60’s, as a teenager interested in airplanes, you could go to a gate and ask the gate agent if you could board the aircraft to “take a look around.” Permission was usually granted. Pan Am was the most careful—they let you on board but gave you a protective covering for your shoes so you would not get their carpeting dirty. There were also “airport days” at Newark Airport where, on a weekend Saturday, families could go onboard aircraft and tour them because in that decade not a lot of people traveled on airplanes for pleasure. It was often a mainly business travel experience.

This is the first of a series of articles which display the cards. I hope you enjoy them.

NOTE: For those of you younger than I am (and many probably are), note that in the days of propeller powered aircraft, and a few early jets, the over wing exits did not have a slide—they had a rope  The emergency card told you where to find and how to release the rope so you could climb down.  And unlike today’s safety videos that explain how to put oxygen masks on children, there is no mention on how to get a child down the rope for an emergency exit!


My first airplane flight was on a Northeast DC-6B. It had the kind of emergency card I treasured because it had the seating chart for the aircraft clearly displayed. Note that this card (like many others) were two sided, with English on the front and the identical information in Spanish on the back.


Since my home base was NYC and Newark was the closest airport I saw a lot of Mohawk activity.  Plus they had a “weekends unlimited” fare of $25 to take as many flights as you could cram into a weekend (which two friends and I did).


These were most probably from a weekend open house at Newark Airport.  American was a prominent carrier there and displayed many aircraft for those wonderful family walk through days.



I did not fly on this Braniff airplane, but I “took Braniff to school” every day.  Each airline sold flight bags at the ticket counter at Newark, and the Braniff one was the ideal shape to fit school books plus a loose leaf notebook—so Braniff served me well to carry books through junior and senior high (and it fit in the school locker nicely).



My first trip to Newark Airport was in 1961 to pick up my grandmother who flew in from Minneapolis on a Northwest Orient DC-7C.  She lived in Brainerd, so she bought her ticket at the North Central ticket counter in the Brainerd airport.  I have the ticket passenger coupon and that flight cost her $53.95 plus tax. The seat card came later from asking to tour the plane at the gate.

Another frequent sight at Newark was the Northwest Electra.  This was the time just after the upgrade of the Electra to fix the whirl-mode accident problem.  Northwest called the aircraft Electra II.  Eastern called them the Super Electra. (That card is the next article)


An aircraft I actually flew was a TWA 749 which had a combined seat card with the Super-G Constellation.


I hope you enjoyed either bringing back old memories or creating new ones with these cards.
Lester Anderson

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SAFETY CARDS of Local Service Airlines – Part # 1

Written by Brian Barron

In this era of mega carriers, it is nice to look back at some of predecessor airlines that became part of today’s behemoths – American, Delta and United.

As has been well documented elsewhere in the Log, the Local Service Airlines were established by the CAB to operate services to more rural areas of the USA and provide feed to the national network carriers.  These airlines were the pre-cursors to the Essential Air Service (EAS) operators of today and were responsible for introducing commercial air service to much of the country.

For this article, we will focus on the Local Service Airlines of the Western U.S.A.  Safety cards from some of these airlines are among the most coveted in the collector community and are difficult to find.

Let’s start in the Northwest with West Coast Airlines.    West Coast, like most of the LSA’s started flying with a fleet of second hand DC-3 aircraft.

Here we have a car showing the window exit operations of the DC-3.  This card is believed to date from the early 1960’s [Carl Reese collection].   As the 60’s progressed, WCA acquired more modern aircraft including turboprop F-27’s and DC-9’s

This card is from West Coast Air’s small fleet of DC-9 10 Series aircraft.  This plastic card shows a large floorplan on the front with exit and oxygen illustrations on the back.  [Note the Jackie Kennedy look alike at the window].  This design would live on, as it was adopted by Air West which was the resulting carrier from the merger of WCA, Pacific Air Lines and Bonanza Air Lines in 1968.

Next we move down the coast to San Francisco based Pacific Air Lines.  Ironically, Pacific started life as Southwest Airways.  In 1958, they changed the name to better reflect their home region.  Pacific also started with the venerable DC-3.  By the early sixties they would graduate up to larger props such as the Martin 404 and Fairchild F-27.

Here we have a two sided card featuring the F-27 and the Martin 404 with one type on each side of the card.  This card dates prior to 1967. After 1967, it was mandatory that each aircraft type would have its own safety card.  These images were taken from the web, so I don’t know who the lucky owner is. J

Like WCA, Pacific Air Lines would join the jet age, but with larger Boeing 727’s.    The 727’s would prove to be too big for Pacific’s routes and were quickly sold off after the Air West merger.

Based on this card, we can assume maintenance was done by United Airlines as it is an exact replica of early United 727 design.  [Carl Reese collection].

Next, we move east to Las Vegas and the home of Bonanza Air Lines.  Bonanza started flying with a single engine Cessna, soon to be followed by the DC-3.

This DC-3 card is a simple Black and White cardboard affair, quite common with smaller DC-3 operators. [Image from the web]

Bonanza was one of the launch customers of the Fairchild F-27, the U.S. built version of the Fokker F-27. Bonanza would christen these planes the “Silver Dart” and these birds would become the backbone of their network.

We know of at least two different versions of cards for the “Silver Dart”.  This photo comes from a Bonanza Air Lines tribute web page and features black and white exit photographs

This example, from my collection, is a Nov 1967 two sided plastic card with graphic illustrations issued shortly before the 1968 merger.

Bonanza, like WCA operated DC-9-10’s and was even flying to Mexico at the time of the merger.  As far as I know, now one in the Safety Card community has the Bonanza DC-9 Safety Card, nor have we been able to uncover any pictures. If anyone reading this article can help, we would love to see what it looks like. This writer would also love to buy it, (if it’s for sale, of course. J )

Next we move east to Denver and the home of Frontier Airlines.   Frontier was one of the largest LSA’s and successfully made the transition to the jet-age.  It would survive until 1986, before being acquired by People Express and ultimately rolled into Frank Lorenzo’s Continental.

First, we look at a DC-3 card from the mid 1960’s. [Carl Reese collection]

Convair 580 and Boeing 737 cards from the 70’s and 80’s are quite common.  However, Frontier operated a small fleet of 727-100 and 200 series aircraft.  Similar to what Pacific experienced, the 727’s proved to be too large for Frontier’s network.   The smaller 737-200, initially acquired as part of a Central Air Lines order, would prove to be the perfect jet for Frontier.

Here is a 727-200 cards from 1970.  There was a second version of similar design with the type as Boeing 727-291.

Frontier also operated smaller aircraft such as the Beechcraft 99 and the DeHavilland Twin Otter for service to very small communities.

This Twin Otter card is from 1976.   This card was small and square shaped, and used typical stock illustrations provided by De Havilland Canada

In the 1980’s, Frontier would try its luck again with a larger airplane, this time choosing the DC-9 Super 80 [MD-80].

The Super 80’s, like the 727’s before them, proved to be an odd fit to Frontier’s route structure, although the plane did look stunning in the Saul Bass “Circle F” livery.  Here we have a DC-9 Super 80 cards from 1982.  This was a typical two-fold color card produced by Interaction Research.

Finally, we move to Fort Worth, TX based Central Airlines.  Central would be acquired by and merged into Frontier in 1967.  As a result, safety cards are few as they disappeared prior to more stringent regulations regarding safety cards being put into law.  Here we have the cover of a Central DC-3 card [Carl Reese collection]

In the next article, we will cover the Local Service Airlines in the eastern USA.  Thank you for reading.

Until next time, keep your seat belts fastened.

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