The card located in the seat pocket in front of you

Every commercial airplane flight begins with a safety message. The final lines are always the same: “you will find…all the other safety information in the card located in the seat pocket in front of you. We strongly suggest you read it before take-off.” I follow these instructions because I enjoy seeing how very scary situations are presented in, often confusing or ambiguous, diagrams.

On our recent trip to Mexico we flew with a domestic airline from Mexico City to the Yucatan. Their safety card illustrations felt very Mexican to me. Several figures appeared to be in prayer.



The illustrator for this safety card was perhaps influenced by the visual vocabulary of ex votos; paintings created to express gratitude to a saint for a miracle. These small pieces of folk art show the bad thing that happened (like a sick child) and the saint who answered prayers for help.

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In Mexican churches and shrines you will sometimes see large collections of ex votos recording all sorts of accidents.

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Usually safety card illustrations downplay drama and danger. Not so with this Mexican example. It wasn’t clear to me that buddy, crawling in the smoke filled cabin, was going to make it to the exit without divine intervention.


Our airplane passenger might welcome the Virgin of Guadalupe to intervene, as she did when this tractor caught fire.

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Compare the crawling Mexican to this relaxed gent striding to the exit in an Air Canada safety card, reviewed during our flight back to Toronto.


My favourite safety card is found on the Brazilian-made, Embraer jets. Many of the illustrations are enigmatic, like this dark figure using his Klaatu-like gaze to start fires or destroy giant crystals.

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Or pulling strings to make baby dance. (In my mind this references the famous dancing baby animation from the 1990s).



The very uncool guys in the Air Canada safety card also do a little dance before stepping onto the strange life raft.



The illustration that really got me hooked on safety cards is “baby has a big idea”, also from Embraer. Below a starry sky, baby floats alone but serene in a tranquil sea. Staring upward, baby seems to have a bright idea or reach some deep understanding of the universe.


On second thought maybe I should just watch a movie and leave the safety card in the seat pocket.


  • Step by step diagrams do fascinate me. In an earlier blog I discussed my collection of pineapple cutting instructions.


  • Another old blog recounts how Sheila and I  miraculously escaped injury when a massive block of ice crashed through the windshield of our car. I just made a quick ex voto drawing illustrating the event.  I’m grateful but uncertain if there is any particular divinity that needs to be thanked.


About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.