Airline amenities have traveled a long way from the cotton balls and chewing gum handed out to the earliest of air passengers. The amenity kit as we know it, the little bag of travel-size toiletries and other useful items, like earplugs, first appeared on long-distance flights in the 1950s.
Amenity kits are wonderful compact pieces of airline history. The collections at the Delta Flight Museum from Delta’s family of airlines tell the story of the evolution of airline amenities and kits over the years.
1920s-early 1930s: The “Air Traveler’s Packet” offered cotton balls for ears to muffle the noise from piston engines and chewing gum to help ears adjust to flying in the unpressurized planes.
1930s-1940s: Airline service expanded coast to coast in the United States and across the Atlantic. Airlines installed sleeper berths and stocked cabins with amenities for long distance and overnight flights, including blankets and pillows. Flight attendants provided chewing gum, toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors and sewing kits.
1950s: Airlines, such as Pan Am and TWA, introduced the amenity kit, a small case filled with toiletries. Pan Am’s "The President Special" was for first class customers who flew from New York to London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
1978: Delta offered its first amenity kit on new transatlantic flights from Atlanta to London.
1978: Pan Am was one of the first airlines to introduce a new class of service for business and full-fare economy passengers, called Pan Am Clipper Class. Airlines began offering two types of amenity kits for First Class and their new Business Class.
1995: Delta is the first airline to develop an amenity products partnership. Delta offered Essentiel Elements natural aromatherapy products in amenity kits and airplane lavatories as well as discounts on purchases of full-size products for use at home.
More photos of Delta's amenity kits through the years is available here.
1990s-Present: Amenity product partnerships continued to grow. Kit styles expanded beyond the traditional zippered pouch into unique shapes. Airlines encouraged repurposing kits and experimented with eco-materials, such as bamboo and recycled paper.