Bill Demarest went to his first Airliners International show 40 years ago.
An airplane fan since his teenage days, Demarest became fascinated with the array of airline collectibles on display at the show, which is held once a year near an airport in the United States. Today, his own collection includes airplane postcards and the safety cards that instruct passengers what to do in a crash-landing. Out-of-the-way items are common; other airline enthusiasts collect everything from airplane china and dinnerware to stewardess uniforms, neckties and barf bags.
“People who come to the show all have different backgrounds, but we’re all airplane geeks,” he said. “There are bus groups and rock groups. This is an airplane group.”
From June 19-22, airplane geeks from more than 20 countries will descend on Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for the 43rd annual Airliners International show, which bills itself the world’s largest airline collectibles showcase. Some 300 tables will be set up at the Delta Flight Museum for enthusiasts to share their favorite model airplanes, kiddie wings, menus and whatever else fans might buy. It’s also a fundraiser for the World Airline Historical Society.
The organization holds smaller regional shows in North America and Europe, but its big annual event takes place just once a year, previously visiting Atlanta in 1994 and 2015. Hartsfield’s designation as the world’s busiest airport is important from a memorabilia standpoint and also because the airport is easy to reach.
Many visitors will stay at the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel, which offers runway views. According to show co-chair and WAHS president Chris Slimmer, airplane fans gather at the hotel to drink beer and watch planes take off for hours.
“Every room is sold out for the show,” he said. “One of the greatest appeals of the Renaissance is that you can sit on a balcony and watch airplanes take off and land at the busiest airport in the world. The really hardcore airline [fans] will grab a beer and sit there with their buddies watching the planes.”
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Cincinnati hosted the group’s first-ever show in 1977, attracting about 60 attendees. It has since become known as the Super Bowl of airline enthusiast shows, with millions of dollars worth of memorabilia bought, sold or traded.
Airliners International isn’t quite as big as it was pre-internet, when it could surpass 400 tables. Memorabilia is easier to buy now thanks to eBay and Craigslist. Still, enthusiasts gather to talk and swap stories. A host of seminars will also be on tap this year, covering everything from the history of Soviet airplanes to 707s in Iran, long-lost regional airlines and flying to North Korea with Air Koryo. There’s even a pictorial history of Hartsfield-Jackson and a seminar on the airport’s name.
Many attendees hold fond ideals of childhood flights, of fathers who spent careers in the airline industry, and of less crowded and more luxurious rides before deregulation hit in 1978.
“Passengers used to get a meal on china with glassware,” said Slimmer. “In coach!”
The more adventurous attendees will take excursions to watch airplanes being broken up in Griffin and to the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins.
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It’s a labor of love for both Demarest and Slimmer, who hold what they call “real jobs” when not collecting obscure airline memorabilia. Slimmer will be loading up a van full of collectibles and driving from his home in Kansas for the show.
“Something clicked for me when I took my first international plane trip at age 12,” said Slimmer. “I’ve got an insane collection of postcards and other weird airline things. I have over 600 airline neckties. The collection is always growing because I’m always buying.”
Airliners International show
June 19-22. Thursday 2-6 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. $5-$60.
Delta Flight Museum, 1060 Delta Blvd., Building B, Atlanta. www.airlinersinternational.org