Ever since the first flight took place by the Wright Brothers over a century ago, aviation has been a world changer for mankind. Before planes, moving across the country or even the world consisted of some rather archaic methods of travel. Your options for long distance journeys were limited to travel by sea or trains depending on your destination, neither of which are efficient. These could take several days or even weeks. Our ability to navigate the world has made leaps and bounds since air travel became a common method of getting around, especially during the Golden Age of aviation of 1950's.
Referred to as the Golden Age, the '50's and '60's are often seen as the height of air travel because it ushered in a new era of aviation. Airplanes were no longer just a tool for combat, but became commercialized for passenger use. Travel in those years often conjured up images of well-dressed passengers with their families ready to make a trek across the country. But was that really the Golden Age? Air Travel has changed monumentally in the years since as we are living in a time in which our skies are filled with the most efficient machines every built by mankind. Sure, we no longer wear suits and sundresses to board a plane, but we have made strides in aviation. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Here are 20 ways air travel has changed since the Golden Age of flying.
20 Flying Was A Social Experience
During the Golden Age of flying, getting on a plane was an experience. Which means passengers treated it with a reverence not seen today. That awe of flying meant travelers would dress up to make a cross country flight. There were no dress requirements for flight travel, but it was customary to see men dressed in suits, while women wore dresses and heels. Today's passengers don't necessarily see flying the same. It's merely a means for getting from one place to another destination as efficiently as possible. It is normal to see people boarding planes today wearing sweats, flip flops and t-shirts, with comfort being the end goal nowadays.
19 There Was Abundant Leg Room
One of the biggest complaints from flyers today is the lack of space available once seated. For anyone of normal height and weight, seats are cramped and leg room is limited. If you are above average in height and weight, well, you're in for a fairly uncomfortable few hours. Such was not the case half a century ago. Today's spaces have been downsized because of airline's commitment to maximizing profits. Less leg room means more seats. More seats mean more passengers which equates to more money. In the years of the past, this wasn't a focal point so travelers were treated to top notch comfort.
18 You Could Light Up While In The Air
With that comfort being top of mind for airlines competing for customers, they also allowed the ultimate convenience of its time... smoking. The changing of times and an increased focused on health over the years have played a major role in this significant ban, but there simply was no focus on the hazards that smoking presents while in the air. Without much regard the dangers a lit cigarette on board presented, it was common to see passengers, in fact most of them, smoking nonchalantly while in their seats reading a newspaper. In today's world, it's no secret that smoking on a plane could land you in some serious legal trouble.
17 Getting On a Plane Is Much Safer Today
Speaking of minimizing dangers to passengers, today's airlines offer significantly safer plane rides to its passengers when compared to the Golden Age. For starters, basic amenities are built to meet or surpass updated flight regulations which are stricter now. Seat belts, airplane windows, and the seats serving as a floating device are all much safer today than in the past. There's also the improved pilot training over the past several decades along with the most important upgrade of all - better built planes with less mechanical issues.
16 You're In For a Smoother and Quieter Ride Today
With all of the focus on making aviation safer with time, it's no surprise that today's airplanes are built far better than those constructed during the Golden Age of flying. With upgrades to engines, not only is there increased performance, but planes are relatively quiet considering their size and the speed at which they are flying at. Back then, passengers had to deal with extremely loud engines that were rumored to not only be annoyance, but downright distracting. Travelers also had to deal with the reality that takeoff and landing were exceptionally turbulent, making the ruckus we feel during today's rides mild by comparison.
15 No Air Pressure in the Cabin
Advancement in flying has been extreme. Unbelievably, when airplanes started their foray into passenger use and the aviation industry moved away from commercial and combat, the technology available was not friendly toward travelers. That included antiquated cabins with little air pressure. This meant that in its infancy stages, the airline industry had some pretty significant flight limitations. Flying above 10,000 feet was not the norm. Today, cruising altitude is typically around 35,000 feet in the air. This makes for much smoother rides and less turbulence in the sky.
14 Flight Durations Were Much Longer
Bef0re the advancements in flight travel, airplanes simply didn’t travel as fast as they do today. The most advanced and powerful planes of the past were able to reach speeds of today’s planes, but they were limited in number and availability. The average plane did not hit the 500 mph that we so often see in today’s flights. This means that travel between destinations took longer. Hours longer, in fact. In addition to slower planes, the air traffic system was not as advanced, often resulting in more layover stops. This meant added time to travel because of connecting flights and having to switch over. With today’s average airplanes reaching high speeds with ease and a complex, but perfected air traffic control in place, durations have been cut down.
13 There Were Less Flight Options Available
There are more planes in the air at any given time today than at any point in history. With over 100,000 flights per day throughout the world, there is never a shortage of travel options available. At any point you decide to book travel to just about anywhere in the world, there are options. Often times, there were several options which cater to your needs. Varying durations, layovers in different cities, airline preference, times of the day, cost, etc., are all things you can account for when selecting your next destination. Back then this simply wasn't the case. It was not uncommon to have one flight option available to a select destination for a certain week, much less within a day. Having to cater to the airline's limitations is a thing of the past.
12 Tickets Were Expensive
For a flight that was going to take several hours more than it does today on a date and time which you had much less say in, tickets were very pricey. At least by today's standards. To purchase plane tickets meant you were likely someone living in the wealthier classes of society. Flying was one of the finer perks in life.
Today, flying has become much like a commodity for society, making them fairly affordable, relatively speaking. Passengers today can book a ticket from Houston, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada for $60 (depending on the sale/special). That's about the same as it costs to fill up a tank of gas in a truck. By comparison, a similar ticket in 1960 would set you back about double that amount. But it doesn't end there. Adjusted for inflation, that's well over a $1,000 in today's value. With more affordable pricing, there are now more travelers from all classes of society enjoying vacations.
11 Purchasing a Ticket Meant Going to the Airport on the Day Of Your Flight
In the early years of flying, booking a trip was drastically different than the convenience we enjoy today. Today, we get to sit on our couch and browse flight options from our smartphones and compare pricing and amenities before finally making our selection and submitting our payment with the swipe of our fingers or click of a button.
Early travelers had a different experience. In its infancy, traveling meant going to the airport on the day of your travel and buying a ticket for your desired destination, hoping you made it early enough to come out on top of the "first come first serve" policy. Quite different experiences that showcase today’s quality of ease.
10 Getting Through Security Was a Breeze
The security line at airports is usually one of the most dreaded experiences of traveling. You have to remove your belt, take off your shoes, put your laptop in a separate security container, and understand all the rules of carry-on luggage vs. checked bags, ensuring any liquid you bring on the plane fits in a 3.4 ounce container. It can be pretty hectic and TSA officers are very strict. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With an increase in dangerous activity at airports, the guidelines have to follow suit. But although it’s a positive that we are safer, it also means a much bigger headache. During the Golden Age, hardly any of these rules applied and passengers could practically walk on to planes with very little obstacles.
9 You'd Be Amazed At The Items You Could Bring On Board
Speaking of relaxed security measures, not only was getting on a plane much easier, but what you could bring on board with you was just as baffling. Today, any attempt to bring banned items will not only keep you from boarding the plane, but could land you in some serious legal trouble, including jail time, or even get the attention of federal law enforcement agencies. It’s a big no-no and something no one should attempt. With strict regulations in place, even the mildest of items can you in big trouble.
Different story for travelers in the past. Not only were there less rules about carry-on items, the flight crew would even help you stow them. It wasn’t a rare occurrence to have a flight attendant help you put up a weapon that would send shockwaves and alarms across today’s aircrew.
8 Identification Rules Were Fairly Loose
Staying on the topic of security, this one will truly highlight how much things have changed in the airline industry since the 1950's. Your ID didn't even have to match the name on your ticket to board. You simply needed to be able to identify who you were and then you're all set. When booking a ticket today, you have to type in your name exactly as it appears on your identification; otherwise you're in for a terrible headache when you try to get through airport security. You might not even be allowed onto the plane until you get things squared away. TSA regulations have become stricter today than ever before to prevent anything going wrong in the air.
7 Economy Class Wasn't Always a Thing
Tickets were pricey because every passenger got to enjoy all of the luxuries of flying regardless of your seat. Throughout the 1950's, everyone enjoyed the perks of first class services. Economy class, sometimes referred to as coach, wasn't introduced until the end of the decade. This change ushered in the era of flying that we are used to today. Changes slowly took place which included scaling back on the amenities included in the price of ticket.
As economy class became the norm, there were significant changes to the food, drinks and comfort offered to passengers. What were once a given, became perks for those willing to shell out quite a bit more to sit in first class.
6 The Food and Drinks Were Actual Food and Drinks
When you take your seat on a plane today, you're already aware of the fact that if you are hungry then, you're going to be even hungrier by the time you land. Today's standard short-haul flights offer one complimentary non-alcoholic beverage and a small snack that typically consists of either peanuts, pretzels, trail mix, or something similar. You can always purchase meals if you're willing to fork over the money for overpriced, low quality foods which tend to be items like dressed up sandwiches, beef jerky and sweets. Not much bang for your buck.
During the Golden Age, you literally were served meals which included an appetizer like a soup or salad, an entree which included a meat and side and finally, a desert. Talk about changing times!
5 Stumbling Off The Plane Was Pretty Normal
As stated before, flying was a social act usually enjoyed by the wealthy back then. A flight was fairly different back then in the sense that passengers were served full meals, were allowed to smoke the entire time and of course... free, unlimited drinks. Yes, that's right. You could drink the entire time if you pleased. And many did. By comparison, if you're thirsty for an adult beverage on a flight today, you're going to have to pay almost 10 bucks, if not more, per drink. You're likely getting off the plane the way you boarded it. But back then, it wasn't uncommon for stumbling passengers to be needing lots of water after a four hour flight.
4 Baggage Claim Was a Chore
We complain about having to pick up our luggage in baggage claim today. It's actually pretty quick and efficient compared to the past. Nowadays, your flight attendant announces over the plane's intercom what baggage carousel your luggage will be ready at and you simply walk over to it after you have gotten off your plane. Once there, you wait for your piece(s) to slide by on the conveyor belt and you're done. In the past, a member of the airline would organize everyone's luggage on a counter and passengers would line up. Each person would inform the worker which pieces belonged to them and would tip him in return for your luggage. It was a lengthy and pricey process.
3 Your Options for Entertainment Were Way More Limited
When we get ready to board our plane, we are prepared to ensure that the next three hours are as least painful as possible. We have prepared our music playlists, have downloaded different e-books, and have several apps (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora or any number of games) on our smartphones or tablets ready for use to keep the boredom at bay. The airline is even likely to offer Wi-Fi and in-flight movies for our entertainment. There aren't many excuses to find yourself complaining when passengers back then had hardly an options. They could either bring a book or magazine on board, or they could socialize with other passengers. If that failed, grabbing some shuteye was always the next best thing.
2 The Plane You're On Today is Huge
The most commonly used aircraft passenger planes in the world are the A320 and the Boeing 737. The average number of passengers these planes carry vary from 140 - 200 travelers. This is only an average. There are planes much larger like the Boeing 747, one of the most used planes in the world that carries over 450 passengers.
This is a huge improvement over the planes most commonly flown during the Golden Age with 150 being on the higher end of the seat capacity. The average plane though, usually held less than 100 passengers per flight.
1 Flight Attendants Worked Under Way Different Guidelines
Today's culture is very aware of equality and attempts to keep discrimination out of the workplace. This wasn't the case in the 50's and 60's. Flight attendants were under strict rules to maintain a certain appearance in order to get hired and stay employed. There were weight restrictions and dressing a certain way to keep the attention of men was the norm. There were regular checks to ensure their appearance was up to par including their teeth, weight and overall physical beauty. It was also normal for them to be expected to interact and be chatty with the male passengers. Today, anyone can be a flight attendant with so many laws prohibiting all types of discrimination.
references: news.com, quora.com, century-of-flight.net, aviationweek.com