Virgin Atlantic Safety Cards

Following the success of the Virgin Atlantic inflight safety video art directed, designed and illustrated Art & Graft, Virgin Atlantic decided to refresh their suite of safety cards.

Information design

We needed to create a suite of cards which would communicate clearly the safety procedures for each type of aircraft in the fleet, but with minimal redrawing of the illustrations. I developed a modular system, with the layout divided into areas for each stage of the flight: throughout the flight, boarding, take off, oxygen release, descent, landing on sea or land, and leaving the aircraft. These are ordered chronologically so it is easy to follow and the most widely needed information is presented first.

layout plan for the Virgin Atlantic safety card

Within these areas, the illustrations can be moved and scaled to accommodate the different design of each aircraft. This allows additional door or seat types to be accommodated easily.

Covers of the 787-9 Safety Card
Inners of the 787-9 Safety Card

Universal design

Each aircraft has its own safety card. It is imperative that the correct inflight safety cards are loaded for each flight, and that every seat has a card.

The inflight safety cards are loaded onto the aircraft and distributed to the seats the local cabin cleaners. The crew need to be able to check quickly that each card in a row of seats is correct. Because the cleaning staff may have colour blindness, the card for each aircraft had been allocated a number.

Allocating numbers meant that when an aircraft class was retired from the fleet, the numbers didn’t run sequentially. Additionally, the word for the number four has the same pronunciation for the word for death in Chinese and Japanese, so ‘safety card four’ would be inappropriate.

Because the cards can be loaded in the seat pockets horizontally or vertically, the number had to appear in both orientations, which looked inelegant.

For these cards, we replaced the numbers with a series of icons with 90 degree rotational symmetry. This means that only one symbol needs to be placed on each card, as it can be read in both directions.

The simple geometric shapes (circle, diamond, square) can be easily described in different languages. They can be typed in a word processor. There are more potential shapes than are currently needed, which allows for expansion of the fleet.

Safety card icon

More importantly, all the colours for the cards were chosen to be distinctive from each other, and the other inflight literature. We simulated the appearance of each card as it would be seen by a person with colour blindness to make sure that the cards were still distinguishable. We tested more colours than were needed to allow for the addition of new aircraft to the fleet.

Colour blindness simulations

Approval process

Inflight safety cards must be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) before they can go into service. The initial designs were drawn up with reference to the extensive list of safety details that must be communicated clearly to the passenger.

The CAA very helpfully agreed to see initial drafts of the safety cards, which were drawn up in pen. The designs were refined and then given initial approval at the sketch stage. Having this level of approval at an early stage in the artwork meant that we could present a very detailed brief to the illustrators and proceed with the minimum rounds of adjustment to the illustrations.


Working from hand-drawn drawn layouts, the illustrators at Art & Graft were able to art direct and create the finished series of illustrations that could be dropped into the different safety cards.

The style and characters from the inflight safety video make the safety cards eye-catching and distinctive. The attractive characters and warm colours enable the cards to communicate vital safety information in a clear and reassuring way.

Virgin Atlantic Birthday Girl

The first commercial release of the safety cards was on Birthday Girl, the first Virgin Atlantic 787-9. The new cards will be flying across the whole fleet by the end of 2014.

You can see more of the work I have done for Virgin Atlantic here.

Please contact me if you have any feedback, questions or requests. Please do get in touch if you think we could do some great work together, I love to hear from people working on interesting projects. My email address is val [at] and my phone number is +44 7980 866 283.

Information Design & Art Direction Val Kildea
Illustration Clement Bolla, Art & Graft
Art Direction of Illustration Art & Graft
Project management Ali Nummy