From barf bags to dinnerware, airline memorabilia shows have it all

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Aviation enthusiasts from around the country will descend on Atlanta on Saturday (Oct. 6). 

The occasion? The 32nd Annual Atlanta Airline Collectibles show, being hosted by the Delta Flight Museum that’s adjacent to the headquarters of Delta Air Lines. 

Delta says the event will feature vendors “from the U.S. and around the world,” where attendees will be able to buy countless types of aviation memorabilia.

About 1,000 visitors are expected, says Greg Romanoski of the Delta Flight Museum. 

Enthusiasts will be able to browse a mind-boggling array of items, everything from high-end model airplanes to decades-old timetables and safety cards. Even in-flight dinnerware from defunct airlines could be among the coveted finds.

Intrigued? There’s no reason to worry if you can’t make the Atlanta show. There’s a robust schedule of shows on the airline memorabilia circuit. Stops are made in cities across the USA. 

Among the more notable shows filling out the yearlong schedule is the annual Airliners International event. Now in its 42nd year, organizers bill it as “the world’s largest airline collectibles show.”

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Airliners International’s next big annual gathering comes in June 2019, taking place at the same Delta Flight Museum that’s hosting this weekend’s Atlanta Airline Collectibles.

What should visitors expect? Based on Airliners International’s 2018 event in suburban Washington this past July, there will be a little bit of everything.

Of course there are tables and tables of airline memorabilia, but there also were airfield tours of the nearby Reagan Washington National Airport, where visitors got behind-the-scenes access to the facility’s overnight opeartions. 

But, the main focus was the memorabilia. 

Among the offerings from the 2018 event in Arlington, Virginia: vintage flight attendant uniforms; airline timetables from as far back as the 1930s; and dinnerware from now-defunct Eastern Airlines. The selections were staggering, including practically anything you could imagine short of airplanes themselves. Even vintage air-sickness bags. (Yes, “barf bags.”)

As quirky as it sounds, such events bring enthusiasts out of the woodwork.

“Everybody thinks they’re the only one,” said Bob Grove of San Diego, speaking to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog at the Airliners International 2018 event in July.

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He says he attended his first memorabilia show decades ago in Orange County, California. His takeaway: “Oh my God! I’m not the only one!”

Dan Asher traveled from Florida with his 4-year-old son Jet. The Ashers had model airplanes to sell, but father Dan conceded they were there mostly for “the camaraderie” of spending time with kindred souls.

That was a common theme among attendees, who came from across the U.S. and the world.

Thomas Wuestneck traveled to Virginia from Bad Oeynhausen, Germany. While he participated in the market, he described it more as a “social event,” a place to “meet friends from all over the world.”

Lynette Perales drove in from Bear, Delaware, so that her 13-year-old son Drew could peruse the memorabilia.

Drew was reserved in talking to USA TODAY about his aviation interests, but it’s curious kids like him that the memorabilia shows say they’re increasingly reaching out to as they try to help preserve some of the airline industry’s history.

“We want to get young people involved,” said Chris Slimmer, president of the World Airline Historical Society and one of the driving forces behind the annual Airliners International Event.

He acknowledges it can be a struggle in the modern Internet era, where Ebay and countless other online interests compete with what the show has to offer.

But Slimmer remains undeterred.

“I love it,” he said at the July event, speaking not only about the show, but of the sense of family of those who attend. “We’re doing everything we can to get more young people involved.”

“Everybody has something that got them interested,” he continues, explaining about how regular attendees first stumbled on to the shows.

“What’s crazy now is the (airline) safety cards,” Slimmer says. “Kids today like safety cards. And models.”

Now, whether it’s in Atlanta this weekend or at the myriad of other events throughout the year, there will be plenty of those available for attendees both young and young at heart.

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