What the Golden Age of Air Travel Was Really Like

Have you ever heard your grandparents talk about their travel adventures back in the 1950s and 1970s? If the answer is yes, you’ve probably also heard about how glamorous and fun it was! Stepping onto a plane was like stepping into a high-class lounge — you would be greeted by the friendly faces of gorgeous flight attendants and having enough elbow room would be the last thing on your mind. The Golden Age of Air Travel was really something else. So, join us on this nostalgic journey, and let’s explore what traveling by air really used to look like.

Dressing to Impress

First of all, let’s talk about the airport dress code. Flying back in the day was a big deal. People didn’t just throw on sweatpants and flip-flops to catch a flight. Oh no! Men wore suits and ties, and women opted for dresses and heels. It was all about looking your best because flying was an event, not just a mode of transport. At first, this sounds great. Imagine everyone on your flight looking like they’re ready for a night out on the town. It set a tone of sophistication and made the whole experience feel special from the get-go.

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However, realistically speaking, I would probably absolutely despise it. There’s nothing better than curling up in your airplane seat while you’re wearing a soft pair of sweatpants and a cotton shirt. Sure, it’s a lot less glamorous, but it also feels a lot more natural and less stressful, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Service with a Smile – and Style!

Next, let’s talk about the flight attendants. They were called stewardesses back then, and they were the epitome of elegance and poise. Airlines like Pan Am and TWA had incredibly high standards for their cabin crew. These ladies went through rigorous training and were expected to maintain a glamorous appearance all the time. There were even very specific regulations regarding the age, height, and even weight of the stewardesses. Kris Jenner used to be a flight attendant in the 70s, and I think that this paints quite the perfect picture.

Once you get the job, you would have to maintain a fit figure, wear chic uniforms designed by famous fashion houses, and keep your hair and makeup immaculate. Additionally, stewardesses were often the face of the airline, and their role went beyond just serving food and drinks. They were trained in first aid, safety procedures, and customer service. They had to be multilingual, and capable of handling any situation with grace. There’s no doubt that this was a demanding job. But it came with the prestige of being part of an elite group of professionals.

Room to Breathe

If you’ve ever felt like a sardine in a can on a modern flight, you’ll be envious of the legroom passengers enjoyed back then. Seats were spacious, and there was plenty of room to stretch out. Some planes even had lounge areas where you could walk around, have a chat, sip a cocktail, or smoke a cigarette. Yes, a cocktail lounge in the sky! That just sounds wild. And honestly, I believe that flights would be a lot more bearable if we had a bit more of this comfort level in this day and age. Because once upon a time, flying was a journey meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.

Each passenger had a wide, plush seat with plenty of leg and elbow room. The aisles were broader, allowing for easier movement. You could walk around, socialize, and even visit the cockpit. Yes, visiting the cockpit was a common treat, especially for children. The pilots would welcome visitors with a smile and show off the controls.

Gourmet Dining at 30,000 Feet

Now, let’s get to the food. It’s no secret that airplane food is notorious for being absolutely terrible. But that wasn’t always the case. During the Golden Age of Air Travel dining in the air was a gourmet affair. Meals were served on real china with actual silverware. You’d get multi-course meals, including dishes like lobster, steak, and even caviar, depending on the airline and the route. Some airplanes even hired top chefs to attract more customers. You would also have a wide range of drinks available, ensuring that you stay hydrated, no matter how long your flight may be.

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The food wasn’t just good; it was an event. Flight attendants would wheel out carts laden with appetizers, main courses, and desserts. They would carve meat and serve dishes tableside, just like in a high-end restaurant. Passengers could choose from a variety of options, and special dietary needs were catered to with care. The idea was to make the passengers feel pampered and valued.

Safety and Security – or Lack Thereof

Of course, not everything was perfect. Safety standards weren’t as rigorous as they are today, and there were more accidents. Security was also pretty bad by modern standards. You could stroll right up to the gate with your family and friends, and there were no long lines for security checks. This made the experience quicker and more personal, but it also meant there were higher risks involved. However, airlines weren’t really aware of that at that time.

The lack of stringent security meant that hijackings were a more common occurrence. In fact, one of the most famous highjacking incidents happened in 1971, and it hasn’t been solved to this day! We have a whole article about it, in case you want to learn more. Unsurprisingly, heightened security measures were introduced later as the need for safer air travel became apparent. Despite these challenges, the overall sense of freedom and ease still made flying an attractive option for most people.

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The Beginning of the End

By the late 1970s, the Golden Age started to wane. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 in the United States changed everything. Airlines began to compete on price rather than service, leading to lower fares but also cost-cutting measures that affected the passenger experience. Low-cost carriers emerged, making air travel more accessible to the masses but also less luxurious. The focus shifted from quality to quantity, and the days of lounge areas and gourmet meals started to fade.

Deregulation led to a boom in air travel, with more people flying than ever before. While this democratized air travel and made it more affordable, it also meant that the era of luxury and exclusivity was coming to an end. Airlines had to adapt to the new market conditions, and the focus shifted to efficiency and profitability. Today, the Golden Era of Air Travel is more of a story that grandparents tell their grandchildren than a touchable reality. Especially not if you’re flying economy.

Kanita is a wanderlust-fueled traveler with an inclination for unraveling the mysteries of history, the paranormal, and the bizarre world of medicine. As a true crime buff, Kanita's nights are often spent delving into the depths of chilling mysteries. Yet, it's not just the paranormal that captivates her—her background in medicine fuels a fascination with the weird and wonderful world of medical oddities, from twisted historical practices to the myths and legends that shroud the field. From exploring haunted locales to uncovering the strange and morbid tales of medical history, Kanita is your guide to the unconventional, the unexplained, and the downright eerie.

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