Known as the ‘Golden Age of Travel,’ commercial flights really took off between the 1950s and the 1960s. And once you check out about the glamorous styles and luxurious perks that came with flying back then, it’s understandable why the era was dubbed as such. Just take a look at these vintage travel photos that will transport you back to the romanticized period and all it had to offer.
1. High Altitudes At High Prices
Today, there are countless websites designed to specifically help flyers find the cheapest price for their plane tickets. There are even credit cards that allow frequent fliers to collect points to use toward purchasing airfare. We bet flyers in the 1950s would have loved these deals, judging by the sky-high prices they paid to fly.
Air travel was relatively expensive back in the day. A flight from Chicago to Phoenix could cost about $150 round trip. Does not seem like a lot? Well, consider adjusting that price for inflation and that domestic trip would be around $1,200 in today’s money. But the amenities coming up on this list will show why the price tag might have been totally worth it.
2. Well Situated
Today, getting on a plane to travel for a long distance flight might mean a few sleepless hours. With so many people packed onto a commercial flight, getting a little shut-eye can be nearly impossible. And the complimentary blankets and sleep masks, while a nice gesture, aren’t always enough to help.
So those who are unable to sleep on today’s planes will be jealous of what flyers got to enjoy in the 1950s. Back then, no one needed a first class ticket to get a “sleeper seat.” A reclining seat was provided to everyone, and was able to basically lay flat.
3. Plane and Powder
Freshening up in an airplane can be pretty difficult today. There are even beauty blogs that give tips for in-air best practices. And if a flyer wants to try to get a little privacy in an airplane bathroom well, let’s just say “good luck.” There is barely any space in there to do practically much of anything.
So just imagine the luxury that came with having an in-flight powder room, complete with a seat, desk and vanity. That was what it was like for some women who flew in the mid-20th century aboard a jet airliner. And that is not even the top luxury that was provided on vintage planes, but we’ll get to that.
4. Fancy Feasts
Flights are not exactly known for their food. Some flights offer lackluster choices that come with a long flight, usually served in a sad, aluminum box that it is hard not to frown over. Other airlines are starting to charge an extra cost for provisions.
But back in the Golden Age of Travel, airlines competed for which could serve the most lavish meals. Passengers were given soups, salads, vegetables, desserts, roast beef and even lobster to enjoy mid-air. Real dishes and silverware were used. Try ordering the lobster next time you board a flight and let us know how that goes.
5. Dressed to Impress
During the Golden Age of air travel, landing yourself a seat on a flight was definitely something to brag about. The time period marked a moment in which airplanes were not just a way to get to vacation destinations, but the flights themselves were a classy part of the whole experience.
While today everyone seems to wear their most comfortable sweatpants on planes, during the Golden Age, people dressed to the nines to fly. Women wore dresses and jewelry with elegantly coiffed hair, and men wore full suits. But after reading the exorbitant cost of a short flight, anyone would understand why people dressed their best for the experience.
6. Let The Entertainment Begin
With a handful of airlines locking down deals with Hollywood studios, it seems today that some of in-flight entertainment offered on flights were in theaters all of 10 minutes ago. From movies to TV shows to on-screen games, there are plenty of options to keep passengers entertained on a long flight.
But back in the early days of commercial flying, there were none of those amenities. Instead, there were the likes of card games. And instead of the usual Sky Magazine, flyers got their choice of the latest newspapers and magazines. Oh yeah, and there was occasionally some live entertainment provided on the flight, naturally.
7. Room to Lounge
If anyone has ever been on a plane with a bunch of loud talkers and crying babies, they know the feeling of wishing there was somewhere else passengers could go to hold a conversation. Well, if the extra leg room and sleeper seats were not enough, just wait.
On some of the bigger planes during the heyday of plane travel, passengers could often find onboard lounges. In those secluded in-flight sitting rooms, flyers had a place to have a chat, get some work done, or just spread out a little bit more. The lounge was also stocked with even more scrumptious food options available to passengers during the time period.
8. A Leg Up
Get this, the average amount of legroom in a standard economy seat on a flight today is just about 32 inches of space. Combine that with the packed feeling of passengers basically sitting one on top of another, and those 32 inches can feel like practically nothing. Add in a person in a row ahead deciding to recline, and there is even less space.
But back in the Golden Age of flying, it was also the Golden Age for leg room. Flyers had as much as six inches more space for their legs back then, compared to what we have now, and that’s just in the economy seats. Just imagine how much room there was to lounge in First Class.
9. Bunking Together
Unless someone is boarding one of the fancier planes that go directly from the United States to Asia, and that someone pays a premium price, they probably would not get to see a bed in a plane. But in the early days of flying, having a few beds on-hand was commonplace.
The beds available on some of those flights were usually bunk beds. And if passengers were taking a nighttime flight, they were welcome to enjoy the amazing amenity. The sleeping arrangement even came with full service, in case anyone wanted a little tea while they lay in bed. Oh, the life!
10. Securing Your Seat
Security checkpoints in airports have become a very necessary, but very time consuming process. Especially during the holidays, the lines outside of security can seem nearly endless. And today, people are required to show up two to three hours before a flight to make up for the lines.
But up until around the early 1970s, flyers were welcome to come to the airport only 30 minutes before the flight boarded. And it was, apparently, plenty of time. There were no security checkpoints, and anyone who wanted to see their loved one off was welcome to walk them all the way up to the airplane stairs on the tarmac.
11. Riding Shotgun
Party in the cockpit! Back as early as the 1930s, pilots received service from flight attendants from within the cockpit, with anything from beverages to light snacks. So one could say that it’s not just the controls that make a cockpit look a little different these days.
That is because today there are a lot of strict guidelines placed on pilots, and we’d say that is rightfully so. For example, pilots are known to monitor the amount of beverages they consume because their bathroom breaks are strictly limited. They definitely don’t go thirsty, but let’s just say it’s a little less fun in the cockpit now.
12. Customer Service
Before the days when passengers were glued to their personal in-seat entertainment monitors, there was plenty more to behold as part of the flying experience. And while today flight attendants make sure everything is comfortable, it is nothing compared to what it used to be back in the 1950s.
Back then, flight attendants were said to be part of the flying experience. They waited on flyers as if they were dining at a five star restaurant (because, well, they basically were), and were encouraged to chat with passengers as a way to add to the sky high, fun loving experience.
13. Dressed Up
One thing that has not changed since commercially flight opened to the public: the unmistakable uniforms of flight attendants. But just because flight attendants are still required to wear matching outfits these day, certainly does not mean that the uniforms have not changed over the years.
Looking at any vintage travel photo of flight attendants, many will notice that airline fashion seemed to follow the instantly-recognizable retro formula of a skirt, jacket and hat. But regulations were often times much stricter and seemingly more challenging than they are now. Attendants had to wear high heels at all times, and their hairdos had to be a certain short length.
14. Leg Room
During the Golden Age of travel, the hemlines of skirts flight attendants were required to wear changed length depending on the particular style of the moment; and along with that came another fashion trend. In the 1970s, pants were all the rage in women’s wear. And that extended all the way up to the skies.
In 1973, an airplane runway was literally transformed into a fashion runway. The show was set to debut the new “it” style for airline attendants, who were referred to as “stewardesses” during that time. The line featured uniform pants for the first time. Talk about taking another leg of the trip!
15. Sending A Direct Message
With airfare sometimes racking up to a price equivalent to five percent to the average person’s salary in the Golden Age of Travel, it goes without saying that taking a flight was a real achievement. It was something people wanted to brag about, and definitely wanted to document. Who knew when the chance to fly would come around again?
Long before the ubiquitous “selfie,” passengers would often take pictures of themselves on flights to show to their friends upon landing. And a few airlines handed out postcards to flyers aboard their flights, so that they could document the experience and share it. It was like taking an Instagram picture on a private jet, except with less “likes.”
16. America, On Line
After surviving a long check-in, dragging oneself through security and finally making it to an airplane gate, the next step for a flight today involves elbowing one’s way to get in line to board the plane. The process involves a lot of standing in the long jet bridge that connects the airport to the plane itself.
But that did not exist in the 1950s. Instead, anyone boarding a plane had to line up at the tarmac. While that sounds like a fun time, imagine all of the well dressed flyers having to endure the heat and rain before taking their seats.
17. Tons of Turbulence
There are a few things that flights just did better back in the early days of flying, ranging from the elegant fashions, luxury meals provided in-flight to the ample amounts of leg room. But anyone would be thankful that they did not have to go through what early flyers had to endure in the skies.
Very early commercial planes, we’re talking back in the ’30s and ’40s, were not powered by jet engines. This means they were super loud, and did not stand up very well to turbulence. Even without a turbulent flight, they would vibrate aggressively. Luckily, that all changed in the 1950s as jet engines were installed.
18. Being Direct
Here is something everyone can agree on: layovers are the worst. And if you throw in the occasional flight delay that leads to missing a connecting flight, the troubles of flying only get worse. But if anyone thinks that is bad, just think about what it was like in the 1950s.
Back then, non-stop flights to a destination across the country were basically nonexistent. For anyone trying to catch a flight that would take them from somewhere like New York to Los Angeles, the trip would definitely require multiple layovers. So we will pass on all the fancy amenities, just give us a good new-aged direct flight and we’re sold.
19. A Grand Entrance
It seems like the only truly happy place in an airport is the arrivals gate. As discussed in the movie Love Actually, anyone who spends just a little bit of time at the arrivals gate of any airport can instantly feel the love all around them.
But back in the early days of flying, a passenger did not have to go far to have their heart warming arrivals gate moment. In fact, they did not even have to go to an arrival gate. Loved ones were able to greet their family and friends right on the tarmac. Or, in the case of The Beatles, fans could swarm immediately when departing from the plane.
20. Check Up On It
The first step to taking any trip on any flight starts at check in. And let’s not act like it is not a common occurrence to see a disgruntled person arguing with the clerk on the other side of the desk over a seat assignment or another issue with a boarding pass.
But in the early days of flying, checking in was actually a much lovelier process. The airline staffers were friendly and helpful, and seemed to have smiles almost constantly. But that is only the first stop of the long process of boarding a plane. There are many more differences to come.
21. Baggage Brigade
Even after the long process of checking-in, passing security and sitting on a plane for hours is over, there’s still another step of the long process that is air travel: picking up checked bags. Once at at a destination and ready to get the heck out of the airport, this step can seem like it takes forever. And if your bags are lost, it takes even longer. At least there’s time to check out some of the bizarre sights around you.
But be thankful, because picking up luggage has actually improved since the 1950s. In those years, an airport employee would take all of the bags and line them up. Then they would have passengers collect their bags one-by-one. As anyone can imagine, it was a lengthy process.
22. Offline While In Line
When checking in for a flight, flyers usually have two options: they can wait in line to speak with an attendant, or they often can check themselves in on any one of the handful of do-it-yourself kiosks. But back in the Golden Age of flying, passengers only had one option: line up and wait for someone to assist you.
While some might groan at the idea of losing their beloved kiosks, hold off judgment. Back during the 1950s, airport check-ins did not involve computers. While that seems like it would create chaos, somehow people managed to make it through, dressed in their heels and suit jackets, without computers. Imagine that!
23. No ID, No Problem
Today, it seems like you have to bring all of your official personal documents to the airport in order to fly on a plane. From a passport, to a driver’s license, to the new system states are implementing that requires prospective travelers to purchase a new “Real ID,” it feels like pretty soon everyone will have to bring their birth certificate just to board a plane.
So it is almost shocking that even as late as the 1970s, there was no IDs requirement to board a plane. Screening passengers before takeoff was not required until 1973. Forgot your driver’s license at home? No problem, you were still welcome to board.
24. Some Light Reading
Without a television screen or the smartphones that everyone is glued to these days, what exactly did people do on long flights back in the day? Well, if anyone was taking a plane in the 1950s or 1960s, passing the time included a whole lot of reading.
Today, when it comes to airplane reading, passengers basically have their choice of SkyMall Magazine and, well …. SkyMall Magazine. Unless they want to read the emergency manual, a reader is pretty much out of luck. But in the Golden Age, passengers had their pick of all the latest newspapers (which were updated daily), magazines, and popular books provided on the plane.
25. And, We’re Off!
Without computers or many of the technologies we have today that allow for the airport process to go as quickly and as smoothly as possible, it might seem like the behind-the-scenes process of boarding a 1950s plane would take forever. But that would be the wrong idea.
Consider this: back during the Golden Age of plane travel, not many people were able to afford the luxury. And for those who could afford it, that meant smaller lines and less crowding. Add to that the lack of security, and anyone can imagine that things would go pretty quickly.
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