Thursday, April 15, 2010

Receding Airline

      It happened as I sat wedged in my narrow, cramped airline seat, pondering whether to eat my four peanuts all at once or string them out to prolong the pleasure. I came to the sudden realization that I had been lied to. Looking back on the day's long lines, embarrasing security measures and extra bag fees it occurred to me that my entire generation had been sold a bill of goods. We "Baby Boomers" were told that our standard of living would be better than that of our parents. As the World's dominant power our nation would naturally be so prosperous we would be swept up in a rising tide of wealth. Somehow it hasn't worked out that way.
   Sure we have iphones and flat-screen TVs, but in the ways that count, I wonder if our quality of life has actually gone down? There are many examples of how the food we eat, the products we buy and even the way we travel are inferior to those of the past. One of the most obvious is air travel, which sadly, has become something you have to endure to get where you want to go.
   Let's take a flight of fantasy and look back at a more "primitive" time before anyone had ever heard of levereged buyouts or marketized securities and airlines promised to take us into that brave new future.

In the early days of commercial aviation the airlines would roll out the red carpet for their pampered passengers.

It was nice of the airport to let Timmy's family (and their dog) out onto the runway to see their daddy off.

This 1929 passenger plane could hold 14 people and two pilots.

No air-conditioned hydraulic jetways in those days. You just walked out onto the field and climbed in.

When American Airlines introduced the Condor in 1933, it became the nation's first sleeper plane.

Buckminster Fuller once pointed out that whenever a new technology is introduced, people tend to treat it the same way as the technology it replaced. This Boeing 307 berth was clearly using a railroad model but the airlines learned early on that space was too valuable to waste to let people stretch out horizontally.

Flight deck of a 1941 passenger plane.

While railroads made it easy to see the country, airplanes seemed to make it easy see the world.

Fairly-cramped interior of a Boeing plane of 1933.

TWA had a pretty snazzy lounge in this 1950s plane.

Early view of Miami International Airport.

These 1930 stewardesses got to wear stylish capes as airlines began to compete over who could offer the best passenger amenities.

This interior of a Douglas DC-7 Cabin is more recognizable to modern flyers but note how much more individual space there is even in coach class. Travel was so special, people dressed up for it. Every man in the picture has a tie and the woman in yellow obviously added a corsage just for the flight.

Just like the trains, the larger passenger planes had lounges where one could get drinks served in a casual environment.

It's interesting that this is an ad from a manufacturer, not an airline.

This swinging singles airplane lounge has it all: mini-skirted stewardesses with Bride-of-Frankenstein hairdos and George Jetson furniture Where is the seat belt on that chair?

This BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) ad assures the passenger that they can always rely on the courteous cabin staff to recommend the appropriate wine.

This Canadian airline served a full-course meal, including fresh fruit.

Even when airlines did serve meals I don't remember seeing anything like this!

The food is so good even the kids love it.

Farewell, hope you had a good flight!


  1. I did travel a lot back in the 50's and the 60's, there is no comparison to how it is today! Back then it wasn't stressful at all to travel. Today, everyone is grumpy and rude. Although, safety features of the jets are much better and the planes are of course faster. I loved traveling with my family back then. Today? I would rather take a train!

  2. The stewardess carried my luggage when I first landed in New York. I am sure being young (back then!) helped!