Alaska Airlines Prayer Cards
Alaska Airlines will retire the prayer cards on Feb. 1, 2012. Alaska Airlines Handout

Alaska Airlines announced Wednesday that it will end its decades-old tradition of giving passengers prayer cards with their meals.

The Seattle-based airline began offering prayer cards in the 1970s after an executive spotted them on another airline, Continental. The cards were intended to serve as a marketing strategy and to put passengers at ease, according to the airline.

But beginning Feb. 1, Alaska Airlines -- America's seventh-largest carrier in terms of passenger traffic -- will discontinue the cards that many found ominous in the post-9/11 world.

This difficult decision was not made lightly. We believe it's the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees, Alaska Air Group Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer and Alaska Airlines President Brad Tilden wrote to customers.

Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.

The airline denied that the change had anything to do with a frequent-flier partnership announced last week with the Dubai-based airline Emirates.

Some of you enjoy the cards and associate them with our service, they wrote. At the same time, we've heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane.

The quotes for the cards come from the Book of Psalms, part of both Jewish and Christian tradition. One card quotes Psalm 118: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever. That verse is printed on top of a beach scene. Another printed over rolling mountains reads: I will be glad to rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name O most high.

Only first-class passengers have received the cards since 2006 when Alaska stopped providing meals on trays to customers sitting in coach. Even now, the cards only appear on flights of four hours or more.

Still, the decision did not go over well with several Facebook users who expressed disappointment with the change.

I told so many people how thrilled I was that in this day and age, a large company could still be so courageous to actually offer a Bible verse, Susan Payne Rao said. It was kind of like small town America ... kind of like you Alaska. I always have admired Alaska and what they have accomplished ... too bad you couldn't just hang on and be different from the rest.

Yet many others welcomed the decision.

Thank you Alaska Airlines for respecting the diversity of cultural and spiritual beliefs of your customers, Yvette Kirby Waters said. Anyone who has faith will have it regardless of whether there's a bit of paper on the meal tray.

For a long time, Alaska Airlines said they got more positive comments than negative ones about the prayer cards. But lately, opinions have changed.