A Winged Ritual Across the Equator

Back in 1960, the expression “Intercontinental Flight” deserved capital letters. Certainly, the longer trips to Asia felt like world tours complete with all the layovers and night stops, whether at a KLM hotel or elsewhere. For instance, a flight to Indonesia was a trip filled with remarkable moments, and which took several days to complete. It also involved crossing the equator.

From that moment on, you were officially in the Kingdom of Neptune, according to myths of those lands. It was the norm to undergo an initiation ritual—a kind of cleansing—in which the god Neptune himself came on board to cover a few questionably lucky passengers with soap and then rinse them off. Its origins go back to the shipping world, but aviation took the tradition over. In the event of an aircraft, the task fell to a crew member dressed as Neptune, who subjected the passengers—ladies included—to the cleansing ritual.

This memorable moment did not go unmarked. KLM awarded the passengers with a certificate. In beautiful calligraphy, the passengers’ names were written into a document, including the day on which they crossed the equator. The document was preserved carefully in a sturdy cylinder and sent to the passenger’s home, signed by KLM’s director.

My Father

The example here comes from 1957. It was presented to my father when he travelled to the former Dutch colony of New Guinea to perform soil research for Royal Dutch Shell. The signature is that of KLM director Aler, who had taken over the post shortly after the death of Albert Plesman in 1953. My father crossed the equator on 6 January 1957. From that moment on he was, in keeping with tradition, a loyal subject of the god Aeolus, guardian of the winds according to Greek mythology. It’s all written into the document.

1957 Oorkonde equator

KLM continued to award the documents for quite some time. However, as air traffic became more and more intensive in the 1960s, crossing equator began to lose its glamour. Ultimately, the tradition was abandoned. These days, thousands of passengers cross the equator every day. It is not nearly as special as it was in January 1957 in a Super Constellation* en route from Amsterdam to Biak.

Constellation Atoom

*PH-LKP: The Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation Atoom

Copyright video: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid.


Posted by:   Frido Ogier  | 
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I still recieved a certificate as late as 1979, flying to South-Africa. Not in a cilinder sent to my home but on the plane itself. Still have it.

Frido Ogier

Hi Barbara, nice! I can image that you kept this as a souvenir of a special occasion. Kind regards, Frido

Nick Lambrechtsen

I received my certificate on 15 januari 1958, flying from Schiphol to Sydney, in Super constellation PH-LKS “Proton”. I found it again recently during a big tidy-up. It was handed to me on the plane, flying from Manila to Sydney. It is certificate # 13494. Can send you a picture if you wish; it is different from what I have seen so far. From Sydney, I flew with TEAL to Auckland, NZ where I have lived since that flight.

Best regards, Nick Lambrechtsen


I was born in Argentina in 1941 and lived in NYC from 1943 to 1947. I flew with my mother to the US on a PANAM China Clipper Air-boat that had beds to sleep at night but the flight took three days. When we returned to Argentina in an Argentine merchant ship there was a special celebration when we crossed the line of the Equator and we were given a certificate. I now live in Miami, Florida since 1992

Joe Matteu

I’m about to embark on a trip to NZ with my wife and daughter. I’m a golden shellback, and blue nose and would like to have a certificate signed by the captain of our flight. How do I go about getting the captain of the flight to honor this old tradition?

Frido Ogier

Dear Joe,

Maybe the best thing you could do is to contact the purser just before the flight is about to depart. Have a great flight!


ArjunA van Heerdt

Hi Frido, we flew september 1954 from Biak to Amsterdam. I was barely six years old, but I remember that I saw one motor burning after take off from Manilla and the plane had to land again. What I am eager to know is the flightpath of that Super Connie and its name. Maybe you have some information?
Light on your wings, ArjunA

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