9 Things That Were Awesome About Air Travel Back in the Day

by Staff Writer

In the good old days, there was something intensely romantic about the idea of air travel. Not only were you leaving your home to discover somewhere new, but you were high above the clouds in a grand silver machine, populated only by the most glamorous travel companions. Similar to traveling the ocean liners of their day, air travel used to be something in which people took pride. It was an excuse to dress up, to hobnob, to flirt. Nowadays, as Orson Welles famously quipped, "there are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror." Couple that with planes tragically being used as mass murder weapons, increasingly cramped quarters, and always being in line behind the hippie with stinky feet, and you’ve got modern-day air travel. Here are nine great things, now defunct, about the glory days of the air.

  1. Security: Leave it to a few bad apples to spoil the whole barrel. No matter how you slice it, the one thing that was undeniably more awesome about air travel back in the day was the security process. And here, "back in the day" wasn't even that long ago. Prior to 9/11, you could meet your lover right at their gate for that welcome-home kiss, and you could take mom's homemade-cupcakes-and-milk snack right onto the plane. Also, you could travel without having to practically undress or smell fellow passengers' feet. Ah, those were the days.
  2. Stewardesses: "Coffee? Tea? Me?" Now represented by both genders and called "flight attendants," the elegant stewardess of the olden days is perhaps the most glamorous perception about vintage air travel. These sexy, uniformed vixens took the plain out of airplane, and boy, were they eager to serve you. Sounds unbeatable, right? Because air travel in the 1950s and '60s was prohibitively expensive, most flights back then were populated by those with money: white businessmen. Advertising campaigns and hiring practices were geared toward raising hemlines, not awareness. Despite labor unions, strikes, and protesting the no-marriage rule, these ladies proved to be the most iconic travel image of all time.
  3. Delicious (Free) Food: From five-star meals to $5 mystery meat, airline food has wildly changed. In the late 1950s, first-class passengers were provided with a decadent seven-course meal, included in the price of their ticket. Even in coach, hot meals and drinks were included for no extra charge. People would fly dressed to the nines, and would in turn be served equally fancy meals and cocktails. Long gone are the days of champagne breakfasts — in the 21st century, gone now even are the days of free stale pretzels. The culprit? The '80s. In a 1987 cost-cutting measure, American Airlines removed one olive from each in-flight salad, thereby spurring the decline of the in-flight meal.
  4. Smoking: Though the health benefits for all, in this case, well outweigh the liberty of some, smoking during air travel was allowed in some capacity on most flights until the 1980s. You have to admit, there is something awesome about the idea of sparking up with one of those sexy stewardesses. And, though non-smokers don't understand, the truly addicted now see a trans-Atlantic flight as sheer torture. Luckily, with the advent of electronic cigarettes, as well as nicotine gum and patches, smokers need not live in airborne agony anymore.
  5. No Body Scans: Back in the day, the only person you had to worry about being able to see through your clothes was Superman. Now, however, all of TSA can see right through you. Cancer worries due to radiation exposure and growing concerns over these naked pictures being leaked (it's happened) make us nostalgic for the simpler times.

  1. Fellow Travelers: Some people just have bad foot odor. Thanks to TSA, now you will find out about it. Some people just like to chit-chat with every single stranger they encounter. Thanks to new-school, tiny, cramp-inducing seats, now you will be seated next to several of them. Some people just have bratty, screaming malcontents for children. Thanks to the changes in the airline industry, now you will most definitely get an earful from them. Back in the day, air travel was a luxury – and considered much more like a treat. These days, anyone and everyone takes planes. Though the lack of classism as a barrier to travel is a good thing about the present, the lack of the common civility of the old days is not.
  2. No Hidden Fees: In terms of price per mile, airfare has declined steadily over the years – from 41 cents in 1957 to 12 cents in recent years. But in terms of the overall cost of travel, hidden fees have popped up almost everywhere. As of 2010, American Airlines began charging $8 for the use of a pillow and blanket. Checked baggage fees, non-complimentary drinks, and charging for headphones are all newer developments that would never, um, fly in the golden age of the air.
  3. The Concorde: The Concorde was a supersonic turbojet – in other words, the most awesome sounding airplane of all time. Besides flying at a top speed of Mach 2, these bad boys carried 100 passengers at a time on transatlantic flights from London or Paris to New York or Washington, D.C. These one-way flights took just under four hours to complete, and, because the Concorde flew faster than the speed of sound, included a rather startling experience for first-time passengers: the sonic boom. Talk about a quick commute!
  4. Respect: Whether flying first class, coach, or cargo (hopefully that's just your luggage), the glory days of air travel were all about respect. Airline personnel were kinder to customers, their bags, and each other; travelers took care to be mindful of the effects of their actions on those around them. Additionally, it seems like the airlines just used to respect their customers more. The glamour of air travel may well be behind us, as flights now resemble cattle lines to a public sky-bus, but it never hurts to practice basic respect and personal courtesy, and act just like you want to be treated.


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