Most of us do not think twice about paying for goods and services with our credit cards as we travel around the world. It was not anything like as easy for pilots in the 1920s and 1930s.

Navigation between the numerous fuel stops required for long distance flight was one challenge. But they were then faced with the issue of how to pay for fuel and other services, in different locations and often in multiple local currencies.

Having set up an extensive refuelling infrastructure to support the early aviators, Shell also came up with a simple payment card, the Shell Carnet, introduced in 1932, a full 18 years before Diners Club launched the world’s first credit card.1 It allowed the pilot or operator, to buy Shell fuel and products anywhere in the world without having to pay on the ground in local currency. Instead customers were sent a monthly invoice for the fuel they had used, which could be paid in their home currency.

As flights and networks expanded from the 1930s, the carnet became a much-appreciated system, enabling easier overseas operations for aviators and early airlines alike. As a Shell advert at the time declared: “The Shell Carnet is the key to aviation service the whole world over.”

Today, Shell Aviation customers can use a digital portal, Market Hub, to manage all fuel orders globally. Shell has also continued to work to find ways to make things easier and more efficient for customers and in 2020, introduced Shell SkyPad Data Exchange. This end-to-end, digital refuelling systems streamlines fuel ordering and invoicing for airlines, removing the need for paper invoices at the touch of a tablet. A very different proposition to the fuel payments systems of the 1930s perhaps, but nevertheless, an innovation that has its roots in the Shell Carnet.


SHA, Shell Aviation Magazine, 1938.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 60-61.
Shell historical archives.

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