In late 2001, as a cost-cutting measure, Delta Air Lines decided to replace its first-class linen tray cloths with paper placemats. As flight attendant Jewel Van Valin told the Los Angeles Times in July 2008, the first time she set down a paper mat, a disgruntled passenger “stared at it and then rolled his eyes.”
That reaction led Van Valin to distribute crayons to the passengers, challenging them to an impromptu art show. The resulting sketches were taped to the aircraft’s interior walls, spilling out of first class into the main cabin. As passengers moved about, commenting on the drawings, Van Valin realized she’d hit on something, and decided to continue the practice—after contacting Crayola, asking them to keep her in art supplies (the company provides her with Rainbow Twistables, a four-color crayon).
Now, some eight years and 3,500 drawings later (Van Valin keeps every sketch), a sample of the in-flight art is on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum through January 25, 2010.