11 Quirks of Early Commercial Air Travel
By Editorial Staff
The golden age of air travel calls to mind images of luxurious cabins, decadent in-flight meals, and stewardesses clicking down the aisles in high-heeled shoes. It was also a time when security was lax and engines roared so loudly that it was impossible to hear the person sitting next to you. It goes without saying that the commercial flights of today look a lot different than they once did. Here are 11 quirks you’ll no longer encounter when travelling by plane.
1. NO I.D.? NO PROBLEM.
In the early days of commercial aviation, airlines were much more trusting that the people boarding their flights were who they said they were. Bringing along a photo I.D. wasn’t necessary: Instead, security would give travellers a quick glance to determine if they were good to board. Until as late as 1970, passengers were making it onto planes with nothing but a ticket to show.
2. HELLOS/GOODBYES AT THE GATE
The days of rushing to the gate to stop your unrequited love from boarding a plane to Europe are long gone. Before airlines tightened up their security policies, friends and family were free to walk up to a gate without restriction, either to bid their loved ones farewell or greet them the moment they stepped outside. Today, hopeless romantics better hustle it to the airport before their sweetheart passes through security.
3. WALKING ACROSS THE TARMAC TO BOARD
Today, the act of actually boarding a plane after making it through security is relatively painless. Before most airports started using jet bridges to connect cabins to the indoors, however, passengers had to go outside, walk across the tarmac, and ascend a flight of moveable stairs to enter the plane. They’d have to repeat this process upon landing, so hopefully the weather was nice at their destination.
4. PLENTY OF LEGROOM
Early air travellers who chose to fly coach weren’t necessarily skimping on comfort. Seats had three to six inches more legroom than today’s economy class, but that extra comfort came at a higher price. Flights during the Golden Age of Aviation cost 40 percent more than what travellers pay now. Average salaries were also lower in the 1950s, so Americans could end up spending 5 percent of their yearly income just on a round-trip flight within the U.S.
5. IN-FLIGHT PIANO BARS.
Before the days when travellers carried their entire music libraries in their pockets, listening to music on the go was a challenge. In the early ‘70s, guests on at least one airline were treated to the luxury of live music during their flights. The in-flight piano lounge in the back of the cabin featured a 64-key electric organ that facilitated many mid-air sing-alongs in its time.
6. NOISY FLIGHTS
Instead of jet engines, the first commercial planes used noisy pistons to power their flights. The roar of the engine of one popular motor during takeoff measured in at 120 decibels—10 units more than the front row of a rock concert and 10 below the threshold of pain. In order to communicate with passengers onboard the plane, the crew used small megaphones to carry their voices above the airplane’s vibrations.
7. UNPRESSURIZED CABINS
Prior to the 1950s, air travellers weren’t treated to the luxury of pressurized cabins. This limited planes to a maximum cruising altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, often requiring them to fly straight through rough weather. Turbulence was much more common, as was the likelihood of passengers having to use the bags in their seat pockets.
8. MEALS SERVED ON CHINA
The in-flight dishes served during aviation’s Golden Age rivaled what you’d find in fine dining restaurants of the time. Multi-course meals were presented on fine china plates and passengers could cut into their high-quality steaks with an actual metal knife. Today, the signature dishware sets once used by airlines are sold as collector’s items.
9. DIRECT FLIGHTS WERE RARE.
Modern flyers can board a plane in New York and land in L.A. six hours later with no stops in between. During the early years of air travel, planes required more frequent pit stops, so one flight across the country often included multiple layovers. And because flight service was limited, passengers sometimes had to not only switch planes but transfer airlines completely to get to where they were going.
10. BUNK BEDS
To give passengers enough room to lie down for bed without sacrificing too much cabin space, some early airlines borrowed a trick from summer camps and college dorm rooms. Not surprisingly, the bunk-bed-style arrangements didn’t catch on in more modern planes.
11. GLASS PARTITIONS DIVIDED THE SECTIONS.
In the commercial aircraft of the past, cabins were often divided into first class and economy using clear glass partitions. The reason you don’t see these on airplanes today? Turbulence sometimes caused the glass to shatter, which isn’t something you want to deal with in a cramped cabin speeding through the air.
Over the past 100 years, airlines have revolutionized the way we travel from point A to point B. Click here for a glimpse at what the next 100 years of commercial air travel may have in store for passengers.