This weekend we take a look at the art of the often-taken-for-granted airline safety card, ask why AA decided to go bankrupt with billions of dollars in the bank and read about the E.U. decision to ban x-ray backscatter whole-body scanners.

The art of airline emergency safety cards

Here is a brilliant article about airline safety cards — “The Unlikely Event.” Anyone who plies the airways on aircraft will enjoy this light look at the art of safety cards.

Though we modern passengers might find whimsical safety cards soothing after walking barefooted to be X-rayed, manhandled and prodded by airport security, our pioneer flying forefathers needing whimsy “designed to lighten the widespread fears of that era, of a population still new to flight.”

At 33,000 feet, and falling, we are presented with roughly the same options as on earth. First, we get the in-flight magazine’s glossy parade of petit bourgeois distraction. But, face it, when your plane is going down, what good is a recipe for a quick and easy hake with hazelnuts and capers? For those seeking something more directly relevant, there’s the Sartre-esque barf bag. But for those of us who occupy that metaphysical middle ground between the in-flight magazine and the barf bag, there’s the airline safety card.

Back in the fifties, safety-card artists worked with a lighter touch. A Qantas Empire Airways safety card, drawn in the wink-and-grin style of a men’s magazine cartoon, depicts a sporting fellow leaning over the side of a lifeboat, flirting with a long, lean, blonde mermaid, much to the annoyance of his wife. Other life-raft images from the period feature a cast of dapper country clubbers reclining, puffing on pipes, scanning menus as smirking fish and seagulls breeze by. A Lufthansa card shows a lifeboat packed full of delicious foods, wine, and a fishing rod.

Why did AA go bankrupt when they have billions in the bank and strong lines of credit?

Analysts who have been following the airline industry (including me) have predicted that American Airlines would eventually have to go bankrupt in order to start making money. Unfortunately, though passengers will hardly feel the proceedings, the workers who make AA go will see dramatic changes in their level of income and find their pensions all but wiped out.

So why are more companies filing for bankruptcy when it doesn’t appear they have to? In the case of American Airlines, the company said in a press release the main reason it was filing for bankruptcy was to “address our cost structure, including labor costs.” American and its unions had been negotiating for a while and had come to no agreement. Other airlines have used bankruptcy as a way to force its workers to take lower paychecks and benefits. American Airlines wants the ability to do that, too.

You could argue that bankruptcy is a costly process and that few companies would opt for it unless they had to. What’s more, a company’s biggest shareholders are often its own management, and they are not going to want to wipe themselves out. But when your stock is already down some 90% in the past five years, as AMR’s is, wiping out that last dollar or so of worth to dramatically lower your expenses might seem like a good deal. What’s more, management is likely to get a whole heap of new shares when the company emerges from bankruptcy.

European Union bans airport X-ray machines

The European Union (EU) has ruled that backscatter technology whole body scanners that use X-rays are forbidden at European airports. TSA in the U.S. has stopped further deployment of these backscatter machines at U.S. airports, but still is deploying the millimeter wave machine that display anomalies as stick figures rather than graphic naked images.

The European Union announced new rules for airport security measures this month, and chief among them was that scanners that use X-ray technology would not be allowed “in order not to risk jeopardising citizens’ health and safety.”

In addition to banning X-ray scanners, the new EU rules limit airport security machines to units that do not store captured images. They also require the images to be reviewed in a different room from the individual being scanned, as does TSA, and requires barriers to prevent the passenger from being identified with the image.