Utah-Based Flight Attendant Maintains Impressive Collection of Delta Memorabilia
Jun 16, 2019, 10:00 PM | Updated: Jun 17, 2019, 4:41 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A nonstop lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But for some, home is just a layover.
People like Perry de Vlugt live life with their heads in the clouds.
“This is part of the office,” he said, speaking from one of the terminal buildings at the airport, wearing a suit and standing next to a small carry-on bag. “The actual office — my cubicle — is the airplane.”
For the past 35 years, de Vlugt’s worked for Delta — most of it as a full-time flight attendant.
“It came from the family,” he said. “It’s been in the blood, and has passed through siblings who worked for the airlines at one point in their careers, and other relatives.”
If you’re going to be away from home four days a week, there’s no doubt that it has to be in your blood. De Vlugt may spend most of his time in the air or hopping from one hotel to another — but when he does come home, let’s just say his job has soared right into his life.
“I’m what we call an AV Geek,” he said, gesturing around his house. “An aviation geek.”
Atlanta’s Delta Flight Museum might have a larger collection of artifacts, but when it comes to embodying a passion for flight, de Vlugt’s home may be miles above it.
“These are first class seats out of a 727,” he said, pointing towards the corner of a room. “A lot of the seating that I’ve actually been able to acquire are all parts of aircraft that they started selling.”
If you spend enough time walking from room to room, it stops looking like a house, and starts to resemble a hangar.
“We used to have real soaps on board the aircraft,” de Vlugt said, lifting up a bowl of individually wrapped soap — some of it decades old. “Here’s one which I acquired which is really kind of unique, because the person who took it off the airplane wrote the date on it: January 9, 1952.”
He’s constructed his own treasury of travel, dedicated to all things Delta.
“The branding, with the logos, over the history of the company, these are all promotional items that they used to give to passengers,” de Vlugt said, looking at a stack of old Delta-branded carry-on bags. “People used to use these for travel. You don’t see that today.”
He’s got nearly everything you could imagine: Clocks, fine china, even a fully-stocked airplane bathroom.
“We have the blue juice that so many old aircraft lavs used to have,” de Vlugt said with a laugh while flushing blue water down the toilet.
Some items are extremely rare, like three signs from the Salt Lake City arena once known as the Delta Center.
“At the top of the building they had 12-foot signs, and over the entry doors they had three footers, and these are the three footers,” he said. “I have my contacts, if I see or know something’s about to change with brand identity — and I have people that look out for me too, and go ‘Hey, this is happening, do you want it before it’s taken away?'”
Of course, not everything is as unique as signs from the Delta Center. Many items in de Vlugt’s collection have been bought online — he says he checks eBay daily. Others came from surplus auctions; de Vlugt says it’s a good thing those happen on the other side of the country, or he’d be there every month.
There’s even a few items that have just been dropped off by fellow Delta employees.
“I came home one day, and this was on my driveway,” de Vlugt said, gesturing towards an old carry-on size tester that once graced an airport gate. “My friends knew I needed to have it.”
His reasons for assembling this assortment of items are the same ones that led him down the career path of a flight attendant —his passion soared from childhood.
“I was just fascinated by these machines that took off and flew,” he said. “Going back to the family, having that tie with the relatives in aviation.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, we would always go to all three — Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco airports — go to the observation decks, watch the planes come and go.”
Even before those years, de Vlugt had a fascination with flight. Originally from Amsterdam, family members who worked for Dutch airline KLM gave him branded gifts.
“That’s where it all began,” he said. “Whenever we flew home to Holland, I started getting these things from KLM from them.”
And when he started working for Delta, his collection was propelled into a jumbo jet-sized obsession.
“I started in reservations in San Francisco, and we worked with our marketing office in tandem with a lot of promotional events,” de Vlugt said. “I remember the first time they said ‘Perry, go into the storeroom and pick up some of the things I need off this list.’ I opened the door, and ‘Whoa!’ It was just a warehouse of Delta-branded memorabilia. Well, it wasn’t memorabilia, it was marketing items. But to me, I looked at it in a different way. It’s like, ‘How can we save this?'”
Without de Vlugt, much of this cargo would be lost to time. Items like his sets of playing cards or miniature liquor bottles with elaborate artwork weren’t necessarily saved or cared for by the people who received them — to say nothing of his wall of old Delta-branded woolen blankets, dating back to the 1940s.
“They were all used at different times in the company’s history,” he said. “During the propeller days, where the pressurization was different, temperatures were different in the cabin.”
It all combines to make de Vlugt’s home less of a collection, and more of an archive. As he says, many airlines have ceased to exist, either through mergers or going out of business. While he focuses on Delta, he also holds items from airlines that his company’s merged with in the past, like Northwest or Western Airlines.
“Preserving the history of these companies has been great,” he said.
De Vlugt continues to add to his collection, doing all he can to make sure these pieces of history have a home — and at the same time, he believes enthusiasm is one of the keys to a well-lived life.
“When I see people with a passion, whether it’s gardening, artwork, music — go for it. If that is who you are, stick with it.”