Traveling by airplane is a lot different than it used to be. And we’re not just talking about the elaborate and cumbersome security restrictions that get added every time some wacko sticks a bomb in his BVDs. There used to be a lot of amenities, but they were gradually eliminated after President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 and cost-effectiveness suddenly became a corporate concern. Here are 11 things that we never see on most commercial flights today that were common in days of yore.
1. Sleeping Berths
In the late 1940s, the Boeing Stratocruiser was described by the company as being “just like the magic carpet.” Besides a beautifully appointed ladies’ lounge and reclining springy club chairs, every seat in the main cabin (not just First Class) could be adjusted and manipulated to form enough sleeping berths (above) to accommodate each passenger.
In the early 1980s, Continental Airlines outfitted some of their DC-10s with what they called a “Pub” configuration. Besides a walk-up wet bar and circular tables surrounded by swivel chairs, the Pub area also included a two-player Pong game…which was probably cutting-edge gaming technology at the time.
3. Champagne in Coach
In the 1970s, Southern Airways billed itself as “Route of the Aristocrats” due to its policy of offering First Class touches to every passenger. The company probably needed those cushy pillows and free-flowing booze to take the edge off of its multi-stop routes; even though it did eventually offer some non-stop flights, Southern’s bread-and-butter was air service throughout the southeastern states. A typical flight might have originated in Albany, Georgia, then stopped in Valdosta, Dothan (Alabama), and Columbus before it finally landed at its final destination of Atlanta.
4. Table-side Meat Carving
Pan Am’s 707 Clippers used to offer restaurant-quality meals served seatside by an on-board chef on their Trans-Atlantic flights.
From 1970 to about 1974, American Airlines featured a piano lounge in the rear of their 747s. The instrument in question was a Wurlitzer electric piano that required frequent repairs due to over-enthusiastic music lovers spilling their cocktails on the keys. What could be more relaxing on a cross-country flight than a gaggle of intoxicated folks singing “Shine On Harvest Moon” off-key?
6. Flight Attendants in Hot Pants
Some changes are for the better.
7. Fresh Cut Flower Arrangements
Pan Am’s 707 Clipper was advertised as being “vibration-free,” so they could afford to have fresh flower arrangements on every tray table and not worry about the contents being spilled into a passenger’s lap during turbulence. Pan Am continued to provide vased flowers during dinner service in First Class until the late 1970s.
8. In-Flight Fashion Shows
What’s worse than having a toddler kick the back of your seat non-stop during a six-hour flight? Having to look at flight attendants in the same drab uniforms throughout the journey. Or so thought the brass at Braniff International in 1965. To add an extra-colorful coating to their in-flight eye candy, they hired fashion designer Emilio Pucci to create a versatile and colorful quick-change uniform for the air hostesses. Flight attendants welcomed passengers aboard in one outfit, then changed to another for the meal service, and then stripped down to oh-so-sexy culottes for the “let me change into something more comfortable to help you relax” portion of the flight.
9. Peruvian Art
Speaking of Braniff, the fashion-forward airline also hired New Mexico architect Alexander Girard to brighten up their fleet. Girard incorporated a monochromatic color scheme in which each plane was painted one color, from a palette that featured selections such as Metallic Purple and Lemon Yellow. When the company expanded their routes into Latin America, authentic art pieces from Brazil, Mexico and Peru were added as finishing touches inside the aircraft.
10. A Window at the End of Each Row of Seats
The size, shape and placement of the windows on a plane are carefully designed to maintain the structural integrity of the aircraft. Windows that are too large would require a much higher level of pressurization in the cabin air. Rounded corners are less likely to develop fatigue cracks, and the space between windows is engineered so that the fuselage still remains sturdy. The windows are installed into the plane while it is still an empty shell, and are normally designed for a particular seat configuration and “pitch” (the distance from any seat to the exact point on the seat in front of or behind it).
In the good ol’ days, the standard seat pitch in Economy Class was 34 inches, but today the average is closer to 31 inches. Once an airline buys a craft, they’re free to configure the seats inside however they please, and these days that means “crowded.” Seats are revenue-generators, so over the years companies have added more rows inside their planes, which means that sometimes even when you’re assigned an official window seat, you might get just a sliver of glass at the back of your shoulder.
11. A Seat Assignment in 22I
Or any row with an “I” designation. Watch the seat numbers the next time you’re tripping down the aisle on a wide-bodied plane—they usually run “HJK”. Why no "I"? Blame computers. When airlines started installing computer equipment to handle their reservations and other records, problems were often created when a letter too closely resembled a numeral. Digital Equipment Corporation was the first company to eliminate confusing letters (in automobile VIN numbers, for example, not only the I but also O, Q, and S were nixed) and as a result such an alphanumeric system is now referred to as the DEC Alphabet.