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Relive the Golden Age of Air Travel With These Jaw-Dropping Photos!

Mackenzie Freeman

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We may be living in the golden age of technology, but we are certainly not living in the golden age of air travel. If you looked at the cabin of a domestic airplane in the ’50s and ’60s and compared it to today’s models, there would be precious little overlap. In order to bring back some of that luxurious travel of yesteryear, we invite you to fly with us through 35 jaw-dropping photos from the Golden Age of Air Travel.

Flying High With a Buffet

The last time that we flew on a plane, we had our choice of fast-food restaurants before boarding the craft. If we had the option to eat from a buffet while in the sky? Yeah, you’d bet we would have taken that! While this buffet screams luxury, the practical aspect kind of bothers us. Planes were notoriously bumpy at the time which meant that a tray of gravy could go flying at any second.

Different Era of Flight Attendant

There was a point in time when air travel was basically reserved for the rich and wealthy. As a result, it was important that every facet of the process was tailored to their experience. As a result, everything from the cabin to the flight attendant had to scream class and luxury.

Luxury in the Skies

Back in the 1950s, there was no such thing as an economy class ticket. Due to the fact that passengers were largely wealthy individuals, the entire dining experience was catered to their tastes. As a result, every passenger could have access to a six-course meal on a bed of silver, backed by unlimited drinks and champagne.

Introducing the Boeing 747

The Boeing 747 made its debut in 1968. The giant jumbo jet became an immediate game-changer in the world of commercial air travel. The Boeing 747 allowed more passengers on board which, in turn, allowed airlines to increase their profits. Back then flying was a totally different experience. How can we tell? Why, because we’ve never been on a 747 that looked THIS nice!

Dreaming of Legroom

As a moderately tall person, flying anywhere but the emergency aisle will leave my legs cramping up for the day. This picture shows Diane von Furstenberg, a prominent fashion designer in the ’70s and ’80s, as she stretches out her legs. Notice what we notice? Yep, there was plenty of legroom back then! What happened?

Sign Me Up For Cocktail Hour

As you are no doubt starting to understand, flying back then was all about getting liquored up for your flight. Cocktail hour was available every hour and there were no limitations on drinks. How many people were getting loaded while flying? Well, if you had the chance to experience how rocky early planes were, you might drink with them!

Meet Birgitta Lindman

If you take just one thing away from our discussion today, it should be this: flight attendants were entirely different in the 50s and 60s. This shot shows Birgitta Lindman inspecting the skirt of a showgirl-turned-attendant. Lindman had previously appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine.

Hitting up the Coffee Cart

Here we see a flight attendant offering coffee to her various passengers. What impresses us the most about this shot is all of the metal. If you were to ask for coffee on a flight today, they’d shove a paper cup without a lid into your hand. Air travel definitely has changed in the past decade or two!

Flight Attendant in 1947

Isn’t this an absolutely stunning shot? This joy-filled flight attendant was captured on photograph right before boarding a plane in 1947. During the time period that this photo was taken, there were no call buttons to get the attention of the flight attendants. As a result, flight attendants had to stay eagle-eyed in case a passenger needed help.

Prepping for Takeoff

At a glance, this picture shows the passenger section of a jet. However, if you look closer, you’ll see that there are all kinds of wonderful details that are intrinsic to the period. First and foremost, look at those amazing leather gloves. It appears that the attendant is either cleaning out the overhead bins or emptying them. Either way, the fellow in front of her is over the situation.

Can You Imagine This Check-in Process

If you were to poll 100 people, the majority of them would say that waiting in line is the worst thing about flying. Due to how security protocols have changed, we can’t have a check-in process like the one in this picture. This shot shows a family waiting at the Alaska Airlines desk. No security, no long lines, just an exchange of information before boarding your flight.

The Old Dress Code

One thing that you will take away from the Golden Age of Air Travel is how everyone dressed. Before flight attendants were forced to wear a specific style of uniform, you would have wildly different experiences between airlines. While we enjoy the vintage aesthetic of this shot, we understand how this style of uniform wouldn’t fly in 2019.

Rockstars in the Sky

Billy Joel knows how to relax, right? We’re not sure that we’ll ever be as cool as Billy Joel looks in this photo, but we ARE sure that we’ll never have this kind of legroom. This photograph was taken in 1978 which meant that passengers were allowed to fold down seats for extra legroom if they were unoccupied.

Staying in Shape For Work

In this photograph, we see a group of flight attendants performing a physical fitness test. At the time, the airline called Hughes Airwest had stringent standards when it came to hiring their flight attendants. Not only did they have to be in shape, but they also had to be certified by the local YMCA. Additionally, their hiring manual mandated that all stewardesses weigh under 125lbs while wearing high-heels their entire shift.

Hugh Takes Playboy Aerial

There are two kinds of people: Hugh Hefner and then everyone else. This photograph showcases Hugh Hefner onboard his own private jet, the Big Bunny. The Big Bunny was actually a DC-9 that was built to carry up to 135 passengers. The majority of the time, the plane would be filled with just Hugh and his Playboy Bunnies.

Relaxing in The Starship

The Starship was a Boeing 720 owned by the band Led Zeppelin. Inside the plane, you could find any number of instruments that were ready to be played. Led Zeppelin used this plane while on tour in North America during the early 70s. Could you imagine jamming with Led Zeppelin while traveling all over the country?

Revel at the Pan Am Flying Clipper

The Pan Am Flying Clipper is a gorgeous plane that was first built by Boeing Aerospace in the 1930s. The plane was built off of the body of a bomber due to the vehicles’ ability to withstand longer flights. The clipper in this photograph was named the Bermuda Clipper. Incredibly, this plane would be in Pearl Harbor on December 8th, 1941, when Japan attacked. The plane was destroyed and now all we have is this photograph.

Classy In-Flight Entertainment

Without multimedia devices to distract them, passengers turned to other avenues in order to stay entertained. Here we see two fine looking gentlemen enjoying a game of chess. Along with a constant stream of liquor, we have to imagine that their flight was enjoyable. Would you want to play board games while flying to your destination?

Concorde Introduced In 1976

The Concorde was a legendary plane that was introduced in 1976. The vehicle was able to fly twice the speed of sound, or Mach 2. Thanks to the extreme speed capabilities, the Concorde was reserved only for flights over the ocean. Why was this the case? Well, a plane going Mach 2 above a house will lead to glass shattering. We have to imagine that nobody wanted that.

Mandatory Passenger Dress Code

Taking a flight was a significantly different experience during the golden age of air travel. While nowadays, you can board a flight wearing almost anything, there was a different expectation back then. In fact, there was a dress code for passengers on certain flights! Nowadays, this would be impossible to enforce, but back then, well, at least it looked good.

Western Airlines Overnight Accommodations 

This photograph was captured in 1941. We are looking at a passenger as she relaxes in the sleeping quarters of a Western Airlines flight. Back then, sleeping quarters were pretty the norm no matter which airline you flew with. Sometimes, routes would take days or even weeks depending on how the flight was scheduled.

Boeing 707 Offered Vibration-Free Travel

Early air travel was marked by customers complaining about vibration. Back then, planes weren’t properly insulated against the constant rattling that so many soldiers are no doubt familiar with. As a result, airlines would try to sell their passengers on gimmick vibration-free flights. This was, of course, complete baloney. Still, we have to imagine that it felt cool to hang out in the cocktail lounge, even if your teeth were constantly chattering.

Absolutely Massive 747 Cabin

Now THIS is what we are talking about! This photograph shows a 747 with premium seating arrangements. As you can see, there are only eight total seats per row. As a result, every passenger had a comfortable seat with plenty of legroom. Unfortunately, airlines came to realize that it was more profitable to fill their planes with as many seats as possible. Oh, what could have been.

Passenger Flights Became Popular After WWII

It wasn’t until after World War II that Americans really began to embrace flying. This photograph was taken just after World War II ended. While this looks like a fancy cocktail lounge, this is actually an airplane. During this period of air travel development, engineers were still messing around with different designs in order to find out what worked the best.

First Class on the Pan Am Clipper

The Pan Am Clipper could fit up to eighty total passengers in their seating area. This photograph shows why. At the time, the Clipper really prioritized luxurious and long-distance travel. A flight from England to New York, for example, would run you over $12,000 after adjusting for inflation. Yeah, for that price we definitely want the fanciest seating arrangements possible!

British Sitcom Lampoons Air Travel

Don’t worry, this photograph was staged! We are actually looking at a scene from the British sitcom, ‘The Bed-Sit Girl’. The show lampooned air travel during the ’60s which was, conveniently, right when passenger flights really came into their own in terms of popularity. This was a pivotal period for air travel development as newer planes were seemingly coming out by the day.

Care For a Game

The last time that I was on an airplane, I watched as a semi-drunk man yelled at his Nintendo Switch. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this photograph represents something more preferable. Flying was reserved for the wealthy at the time which meant that luxury was ALWAYS the most important factor to consider.

Ultra First Class Seating

If you are going to travel by plane, you might as well travel in style, right?  Air travel during this period of time was seen in a different way than how we presently perceive it. Back then, flying on the plane was something out of the norm, so treating yourself to luxurious accommodations was just part of the process!

One of the First In-Flight Movies

This picture purportedly shows one of the first in-flight movies ever broadcast during air travel. While we have no doubt that this photo is from the ’30s and that these passengers are watching a film, we do have reservations. Look outside of the window, see all of those feet? Unless they are flying with angels, this plane is grounded.

1935 Flight From London to Paris

This amazing picture shows a group of passengers as they fly between London and Paris. Closer to a dining room booth, the in-flight accommodations at the time were definitely pretty classy! While this definitely looks like an amazing experience, the truth is that air travel was still rough due to the heavy vibrations in these early crafts. Hold onto your fork and knife!

Comfortable In the Boeing Stratocruiser

This picture shows the passenger section of the Boeing Stratocruiser. The Stratocruiser was a massive airplane but it could only handle about 100 people at a time. This plane benefited from military innovation that would make its way to the private sector. Here we see a lounge where up to 14 passengers could relax with plenty of legroom.

Travel During the ’40s Looked Different

If these fine folks weren’t wearing such fancy garb, we might be inclined to think that they were in a military jet. This picture showcases a passenger plane from the late ’30s and early ’40s. Barebones and bereft of soundproofing and weatherproofing, you were in for quite a bumpy ride during your travels. It wasn’t until WWII that air travel really came into its own.

Looking Back at ‘Airplane!’

If we are going to talk about the Golden Age of Air Travel, we have to mention one of the funniest films of all time. Here we see a screenshot from the comedy ‘Airplane!’ which was released in 1980. The film created several iconic scenes that are frequently referenced, sometimes by comedians on your own flight!

Dining on Lobster at 10,000 Feet

If we had to make a list of food that we wouldn’t want to eat during a flight, seafood would rise to the top of the list. While this picture may make this meal look classy, we have no doubt that the smell of lobster annoyed at least one or two people! Would you be willing to fine dine on a long flight?

Selection of Newspapers

Way back when this photograph was taken, people didn’t have tablets or phones to keep them busy. Instead of locking their eyes on a screen, passengers loved to read the newspaper. As a result, passenger jets started to carry a selection of the most popular newspapers in the area. How about that for killing some time on your flight? Sorry, no Netflix here!

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