Vintage Airline Experience


A Look at the Past 50 Years of Air Travel

Traveling via an airplane is getting more and more common with the increase in flight routes, and society’s desire to step beyond their backyard. Statistics from the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, show that around 3.1 billion people flew in 2013, surpassing the 3 billion mark for the first time ever.  Originally however, airplane travel was strictly an extravagant luxurious privilege. Airfares were set by the Civil Aeronautics Board and were quite pricey, though with that price came perks that are long gone in today’s air travel. At the same time, we’ve seen improvements to the industry so extreme that travelers today couldn’t fathom it any other way. It’s amazing to realize all of the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years of airline travel. Below are some of the major changes.


One of the most obvious changes is the fact that smoking is no longer allowed when flying. Fifty years ago, no one would think twice of lighting a pipe in flight. In fact, the only time it was prohibited was when the plane was still on the ground for fear the refueling fumes could be ignited. But pipe smoking has now officially been banned since 1979, and regular smoking on all domestic flights since 1998, though many airlines implemented their own rules banning it well before then.


Another rather clear change is the food offered. In 1963, if you were flying economy class, your plane ticket automatically included a meal on longer flights. On what we now consider short domestic flights, passengers enjoyed lobster cocktail, chicken breasts and chocolate cake. Over the decades, the decadent lunches slowly but surely decreased in quality to become packaged cold lunches before reaching today’s standard of not being included at all in the economy class fare.

Jet Technology & Efficiency:

Surprisingly, jets from 50 years ago were capable of the same speed as today’s jets, but they were far noisier and guzzled even more gas than the large amounts they use now. 50 years ago, you also would have had a better chance of getting to your destination quicker than today. In the past, airlines offered more point-to-point service, but today, airlines operate hubs in major cities and you’re more likely to make a stopover, especially if you’re trying to reach a smaller city. With airports getting even more sophisticated with in-terminal shopping and dining options, this trend is likely to continue, rather than lessen. If you are so lucky as to have a direct flight, it is still likely that the flight will be longer than one fifty years ago.  Today, flight times factor in potential delays from air traffic; an issue that was non-existent fifty years ago.

Customer Comfort:

In today’s world, an additional 4 inches of legroom is available at a premium.  This would have been an absurdity 50 years ago when planes boasted spacious cabins and lounges to stroll in you enjoy complimentary alcoholic drinks.

The Realities of Yesterday’s Travel:

Sound too good to be true? While 50 years ago may seem like the golden age of travel, in all reality, being stuffed into a smoky metal capsule with a group of other strangers for hours on end is not nearly as glamorous as one might romanticize. The iPads, Kindles, and notebooks ECBC takes such care in designing bags around were not yet developed to distract customers from the monotony of the flight. In the 1950’s you were handed a postcard when you boarded the plane as both an anti-boredom activity and as a free promotion for the airline.  (Often , the front of the postcard showed the plane or the meal you were going to be served.)  In-flight movies and music didn’t become popular until the mid-1960’s and at that time everyone was subjected to the sound of the movie or the in-flight radio. Plugging in a pair of headphones didn’t become an option until 1985.

So yes, the food, faster flights, more generous legroom, and complimentary alcohol may make the past seem like the better era of travel. But coupled with those elements would be excessive smoke, loud engines, extremely pricey airfare and nothing but a postcard and a pen to pass the time.  We have many reasons to be happy, modern travelers

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