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Pan Am Video Highlights the Luxurious Early Days of Commercial Flight

Michele Debczak
A flight attendant pouring a passenger champagne on a Pan Am flight.
A flight attendant pouring a passenger champagne on a Pan Am flight. / Tim Graham/Stringer/Getty Images
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Before the days of long security lines, sad snack packets, and minimal leg room, flying was seen as a luxury experience. Boarding an airplane in the 1950s was comparable to taking a fancy cruise. Passengers could expect everything from live music to meat carved to order, regardless of where they were seated on the plane. For a taste of the early days of commercial flight, check out the retro video below.

Pan American released this promotional footage in the late 1950s to advertise the amenities offered on its flights, many of which are things we no longer see on airplanes. There were no in-flight movies 60 years ago, but other perks made the trip enjoyable. Guests could move from their spacious seats to a lounge decorated with fresh flower arrangements. For food, they might sample hors d'oeuvres from the flight attendant's serving platter, or eat lobster tails served on fine china. Diners ate off trays clad in white table cloths and used real metal knives to cut into their steak.

A lot has changed since the golden age of air travel. As airlines looked for ways to maximize the number of passengers they could pack onto each flight, they did away with luxuries like lounges (some of which were outfitted with working pianos). Today, the in-flight meals served in coach are closer to cafeteria food than haute cuisine. And if you pull out a cigarette, the flight attendant won't respond by offering you a light.

Being among the first people to fly commercially wasn't always a treat. Prior to the 1950s, cabins weren't pressurized, which made flying low through weather systems necessary and severe turbulence more common. Here are more quirks of early commercial air travel.

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