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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Golden Age of Flying

My recent talk with Daniela the Flight Girl spurred my nostalgia about what flying was like back in the day. I remember those Mad Men episode with Don Draper was winging it to the coast with Roger Sterling with the suit coats still buttoned and stewardess with gloves on taking drink orders.

Today is a little different, right? You know the drill, show up three hours early, get frisked by TSA, beg for an upgrade (or pay a fortune for business class), and share sodas with your seat mates. So, what was it like when airline travel became a romanticized mode of transportation? I'll tell you, it was smokey, dangerous, boozy, expensive, boring, racist, and sexist.

Expensive Tickets

In the fifties, a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago would set you back about $1,200 in today's dollars (when adjusted for inflation). A one-way trip to Rome would have cost you $3,000!


During the fifties, smoking (cigarettes, pipes and cigars) was acceptable (and to a large degree encourages) in flight. However, you couldn't smoke in the terminal. Senior management at the airlines and the FAA were deathly (pun intended) afraid that fuel fumes could be ignited. Reform came in 1988 when smoking was prohibited on short domestic flights. In 2000, a new law banned smoking on all flights department from and inbound to the United States.

Baggage Claim

Back in the day, you would wait for a skycap to organize the luggage and after that laborious process, you would point our your suitcase and tip the man.

Lots of Drinking

Mile High Club aside, the only in-flight entertainment used to be alcohol. Everyone was served as much free alcohol as they could handle. And not handle. It was pretty common to disembark the plane totally hammered.

No ID Needed

Even as late as the nineties, you could board a plane with only your ticket. Showing up at the airport a few minutes before your flight was the perfect pre-flight timing, you didn't take off your shoes, belt or hat, and your girlfriend could walk you to the gate to make sure you were going to where you said you were.


In the Golden Age of Flying, your chances of dying were five times greater than today (and a patch of turbulence could snap your neck). Nice-looking dividers separated first class from coach. The only drawback was that they could shatter and spray you with glass during turbulence. Walking to the bathroom could be fatal. Trip and you could find yourself landing on a sharp edge or jag of a chair or table. Safety was not a priority once upon a time.


In the sixties, sex sold everything. Today, you'd be called a misogynists or Donal Trump. I've detailed the AirStrip campaign quite a few times in the quasi-pages of the Media Guy Struggles. For those of you that missed it read the story. I'm excited to write that I finally found the vintage television spot.

In the commercial, a “hostess” (a new term coined by the advertising folks) casually strips off layers of her Emilio Pucci uniform to classic stripper music while the dominating male voiceover narrator uses not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to describe her action. Note the concluding tag line:

“The AirStrip is brought to you by Braniff International, who believe that even an airline hostess should look like a girl."

See for yourself...

The Golden Age of Flying Gallery

Thanks to the SAS Museum for the art!