Airplane Safety Cards in Seat Pockets

Q: What’s up with those safety cards in the seat pockets? They are impossible to understand, and nobody looks at them anyway. Why are they there?

So you can fan yourself, obviously, on an overbooked flight baking on the Phoenix tarmac in July.

The fold-out cards are supposed to be a graphic transcription of the speeches given by the flight attendants. They are a rather unimaginative nod to government regulations requiring their content and presence. The talent levels of the artists speak for themselves, and they appear to be a debased reinvention of Egyptian hieroglyphs. At the very least they ought to be cleaned up and simplified to show the basics: location and operation of the floatation equipment, oxygen and exits.

A game: Take a look at the card where it lists the emergency exit row seating requirements. Begin reading prior to takeoff, and see if you can finish by the time you dock at the other end. If you’re able to get through the list and coherently cite even one of the mandated conditions, go buy yourself a frozen yogurt or a new tie. Rumor has it that some airlines also will award you 50 thousand bonus miles.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.