10 Things We No Longer See on Airplanes

A sleeping berth on an Imperial Airways aircraft in 1937.
A sleeping berth on an Imperial Airways aircraft in 1937. / Fox Photos/Getty Images

Traveling by airplane is a lot different than it used to be—and we’re not just talking about long wait times at security and the restrictions about what you can bring on the plane. Here are 10 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 to accommodate each passenger.

2. Pong

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, including free-flowing booze in coach. They even released collectible shot glasses, debuting a new design annually.

4. Meat Carved to Order

Pan Am used to offer restaurant-quality meals on some of its aircraft, including passed appetizers, buffets, seven-course dinners, and roast beef that was carved based on the passenger’s order.

5. Pianos

In the early 1970s, American Airlines featured a piano lounge in the rear of their 747s. The instrument in question was a Wurlitzer electronic piano; you can see one of the pianos used on the planes at the American Airlines CR Smith Museum in Texas.

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” [PDF] so they could afford to have fresh flower arrangements on tray tables and not worry about the contents being spilled into a passenger’s lap during turbulence.

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 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 architect Alexander Girard to brighten up their fleet—what they called “the end of the plain plane.” Girard incorporated a monochromatic color scheme in which each plane was painted one very bright color (bright green, for example). 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 windows are less likely to develop fatigue cracks, and the space between windows is engineered so that the fuselage still remains sturdy. The windows 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 norm is closer to 31 inches. Once an airline buys a craft, they’re free to are 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.