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Mature Flyers' Perspective

Hello!

I am a fan of both traveling and cultural history. As much as I can learn about Delta being the oldest US airline running or look at pictures of flight attendants in the 60's, I feel like I'm still curious what it was like to actually fly in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

How was the food? Was it easier without TSA? Was there only one class back then? I'd be very interested in any insight into what it was like to fly during this time. :)

Thanks for reading and I look forward to replies!

Posted by
1812 posts

Well, I've flown in all those decades. The seats were much bigger, the food was much better ( I want to say that flying coast-to-coast gave us two meals) and people were much more friendly. Flight attendants had time to chat with passengers and did. The anecdote that comes to mind first was from the mid-70s when security was first instituted after all the airline hijackings. I had a goldfish that couldn't stay alone during vacation, so I used to have him in my carry-on. He was in a plastic bag and the security people got a kick out of finding him at the top of my carry-on. He lasted about 3 years, so he did a fair amount of flying.

Posted by
158 posts

I'm interested to read the replies too, great topic. All I usually hear from people is that it was very smoky - everyone smoked cigarettes and even cigars on flights. In the early 90s I remember the planes still had tiny flip top ashtrays in the armrests. They were usually full of old chewing gum and wrappers. Not very glamorous.

Posted by
457 posts

I am a little too young to remember flying in the 50s and 60s. However, I do recall a story my father told me about returning from a trip and arriving at Candler Field, what is now known as Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, in Atlanta. At the time, Candler field was basically just a collection of quonset huts. He gathered his luggage and went to his car, but his car wouldn't start. He went back to the Delta office and explained the problem. A Delta employee went out and fixed his car for him!!!! From that day on, he refused to fly any airline but Delta.

Posted by
21317 posts

I took my first flight around 1958, I think. A child could fly alone with little in the way of special arrangements back in those days. My early flights were just between Northern Florida and North Carolina, so I didn't get big, fancy meals. I do remember some nice open-faced sandwiches--sort of like what I'd expect to find in Denmark.

I also remember that passengers pretty much universally dressed nicely. I don't know whether the planes I flew had a first-class section; I certainly wouldn't have been in it.

A bored passenger could ask for, and receive, a deck of cards to while away the time.

One thing that has improved for most flights is that you used to traipse across the tarmac and up a set of rollaway stairs to get onto the plane.

Posted by
16941 posts

Yes, in the 70's it was a pleasure to fly. Free drinks, good food, pleasant flight attendants, half empty planes. Of course, I was traveling on the company dime. I remember leaving work in far north Bergen County, NJ at 4 pm and making a 5:30 pm flight at Newark, and this was with security and parking the car in the remote lot. If you finished work early, you could use your ticket on an earlier flight home, even if it was on another airline.

This was all back when airlines were regulated, so every airline's prices were the same. It might have been expensive, but I wasn't paying for it for the most part. Not as many leisure travelers then.

But it might just be "Ostalgia". Cradle to grave security, even if it does take three years on a wait list to get a Trabi, and watch what you say as the Stasi might be listening. It was not all peaches and cream, but we forget the bad (high prices, fewer choices, and more accidents), and remember the good.

Posted by
1486 posts

There was no roll-aboard luggage prior to the late 80s. You always checked bags.

You couldn't get your boarding pass until you arrived at the airport. I remember a sheet that showed the seating chart for the plane, with a label over every available seat. You selected your seat and they pulled the label off the sheet and adhered it to your boarding pass. In fact, I'm not sure I remember ever getting a separate boarding pass. Tickets were always paper, and they just stuck the seat number to the ticket.

The no smoking sign was only illuminated during take-off and landing. It got turned off pretty much as soon as the plane was off the ground, and everyone lit up. There was a small non-smoking section near the front.

Dropping someone off, you'd always park the car and wait at the gate with them until they boarded (and often would stand by the window and wave to them until the plane taxied away). Picking them up, you'd greet them at the gate as they deplaned. Even after they installed metal detectors, anyone could go through, except during a brief period in the 90s and, of course, after 9/11.

I remember once peaking into the first-class cabin. They were carving a prime rib. With a carving knife. Even in coach, you got real utensils with your meals.

Posted by
21317 posts

God, yes, the smoking. It was really dreadful. I used to ask for a seat "as far away from the smokers as possible".

I had an interesting experience on my first trip to Greece. Not sure what year it was; definitely not before 1978. I wanted to buy a ticket on flight from Crete to Rhodes. I went by the Olympic Airlines office in Athens and was told it had no tickets left, but that I might be able to get one at an office in Crete. They were not computerized; each Olympic office received an allotment of seats to sell for each flight.

Posted by
2740 posts

My first flight was on a Piper Cub and as a ten year old it was exciting. A month later, June 1953, my mother, brother and I flew from New York to Nuremburg on a KLM Super Constellation. Leaving Idlewild, now JFK, we flew to Gander, Newfoundland for refueling. The next stop was at 4AM in Shannon Ireland. We disembarked to have breakfast which was served by waiters in mourning coats. Next stop was Amsterdam where we got on a twin engine plane, perhaps a DC3 tail dragger, on which we flew to Nuremburg. I'd estimate total travel time at close to 24 hours. On the flight, I got to visit the cockpit and the captain presented me with KLM wings. On the return trip, we refueled in Glasgow instead of Shannon. I remember we had two giant green suitcases and Mom had a hat box. Those cases must have weighed over 60 pounds each! I believe that there was first class and tourist on the flight.

Next flight was on American Airlines from LGA to Midway in Chicago on a DC-6B prop jet in 1957. Very comfortable with real China, real glassware, real cutlery and real food. I remember Mom appropriating a cloth place mat that had the American Airlines logo embroidered into it. 1969 marked my first flight on a 747 - TWA first class JFK to Dallas. Total amazement entering a jumbo for the first time. Although the area is now used for first class or biz class seating, the second floor was a first class lounge with unlimited complimentary beverages. When I arrived at the Avis counter, they said they had no cars available even though I had a reservation. They insisted on taking me to my hotel and promised a car would be there the next morning, which it was. Compliments to well trained staff to not allow a customer who obviously was too inebriated to drive in a very diplomatic way. I'm forever grateful.

Later the same year I flew 1st class LAX to JFK on a TWA on a 707. Danny Thomas, the tv star, sat across the aisle from me and slept most of the trip. When he awakened he did a five minute monologue for us and then went to coach where he did another twenty minutes! What a gentleman. Don't forget to donate to St. Jude's Children's Hospital!

Many other flights in the 70's on Allegheny in New York State with smaller planes including a converted C-47. Moving to Florida in the 80's we took a lot of short family trips on what was my favorite airline - Piedmont. A variety of planes, wonderful cabin crews and the greatest free box lunches. And triple mileage. And a minimum of 1,000 miles x 3 for each leg flown. To get from West Palm Beach to Asheville you'd earn 9,000 miles each way. In two years time, we earned enough miles for two round trips to Europe for three of us plus free car rentals while there.

As far as the TSA, in the 60's I traveled between NYC and Washington quite often on the Eastern shuttle. Park in the free lot and run onto the tarmac and board the 727 that was waiting. No ticket? Buy it on board. Frequent fliers could get a book of tickets at a discounted price. I believe the fare was $16 one way. If the plane was full, they'd have another on standby even if there was only 1 passenger. I was on a second plane once with four others.

I've made many other flights in the last thirty years but those are the ones with the fondest memories.

Posted by
4612 posts

Yes, I remember the send-offs at the gate and trying to avoid sitting near the smoking section (prone to sinus headaches). And we dressed up to ride an airplane - dress and nice shoes. We had some of the early "wheeled luggage", I.e. little wheels under a large rectangular suitcase! Some suitcases were round like a hat box. Imagine how much space those wasted!

Posted by
3180 posts

Wow, lovely stories and memories. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by
4637 posts

Well Patty, those were good old days. Unfortunately progress is unstoppable. The only good thing which progress brought is that the flights are now non-smoking.

Posted by
13221 posts

Yes, we used to dress up to fly in the 60's.

I was a student in Germany and fly home in June, 1967, a few days after the start of the Six Days' War. All US servicemen in Germany had their leave canceled, so my Lufthansa flight ((Boeing 707) was nearly empty---there were more flight attendants than passengers. I had a whole row to myself to lie down and sleep, as did every other passenger, and we could ask for food at any time---there was plenty.

These days they would just cancel a flight like that.

Posted by
653 posts

My first flight was in 1964 on Pan Am from SFO to Honolulu. My family got all dressed up and us kids got to visit the pilots in the cockpit during the flight where we were given little Pan Am wing pins.

Posted by
503 posts

My first plane ride was in 1972...what I remember,
1. the flight attendants (then called Stewardesses) were beautiful, hair, makeup, uniform...I thought they were so glamorous and wanted to be one.
2. Meals eaten with real utensils on real plates.
3. Plenty of room to move around and change seats.
4. In the beginning, smokers could sit anywhere, a few years after I started flying they were relegated to the back of the plane.
5. Family could come to the gate, wave you off and when picking you up, would be waiting at the gate.
6. Paper tickets, with carbon in between
7. People dressed nicely, it was a special treat to be flying and you treated it that way.
8. People would have thought you were insane if you suggested paying for luggage, for goodness sakes, if you are going away, everyone knew you had to actually bring a change of clothes.
9. No one ever suggested you get to the airport an hour early, why do that and sit around?
10. Seats were wider, cushier and had more legroom
Sigh, this is depressing me.....

Posted by
1203 posts

All the good stuff people have said is true...however, prices were so high it made flying a luxury, not a yearly thing. (At least for my family.) I wanted to go with a school group to Europe one summer, but the flight expense was prohibitive. I remember paying $300.00 in 1974 to fly from Seattle to Grand Rapids (one way) This was back when minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. When I came home for Christmas (I was at college) there was a huge strike. It took me 3 days to get home. Highjackings seemed more common back then too. But back then the smoking didn't bother me so much....because every restaurant allowed smoking and I was used to sitting in a cloud of smoke! I also think the planes have improved in some areas. In 1962, my ears killed me because of the air pressure when we were landing. Having said that, flying back then was luxurious...now it is like sitting on a bus. And I will always miss that moment when you came off the plane and your loved ones were standing right at the gate to welcome you home.

Posted by
4612 posts

Also, booking tickets was all controlled by travel agents. You had to go to their store location or call them, tell them where you wanted to fly and the date. You would come back to their location the next day (or longer), and they would present your booklet of tickets and tell you the route, etc. Our current on-line booking is so much easier & faster to obtain exactly what you want.

Posted by
13221 posts

A bit more on flying in the 1960's---

The flight attendants were all women ( "stewardesses"). They had height, weight and age requirements--- so most were young, thin, and very attractive.

And according to friends who were "stews" on United, they were required, no matter how toned nd fit, to wear tight uncomfortable girdles so their curves did not undulate the least bit as they walked up and down the aisle of the plane.

Posted by
31524 posts

I don't remember flights before the '70s, but from what I recall flying was less of a hassle then and something to look forward to. Flying seemed like somewhat of a luxury that was mostly enjoyed by those who were well-off and It was a much more relaxed and "fun" atmosphere. The fact that smoking was allowed on flights was a problem for me, but during those times smoking was allowed everywhere, so one just had to tolerate it.

I often used Western Airlines on flights from YVR to LAX, and I can still remember the Western Airlines jingle - "the o-o-o-only way to fly", as seen here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0Ldq5zC6VI

Posted by
2154 posts

I live in Atlanta, the home of Delta. I lived in California from 1964 for four years and used to fly back and forth to visit my family here. I recall they could say goodbye to me right at the gate, no security, just as everyone has posted. I would dress up to fly. I have one picture of me and family and I have a dress with a coat on and I am wearing a hat before I board the plane! That would be quaint today. I remember good meals, too. It was an event to fly back then.
Interesting question, are you writing a book?
Judy B

Posted by
276 posts

I remember as a kid being able to walk up to the gates and in that area was an outdoor terrace where you got great views of planes taking off and landing. They had viewers and for a quarter you could see the planes up close. As a family we'd go to the airport on a Sunday for fun.

My first flight was in the 80's when my friend and I flew to Europe after high school graduation. I had my folks old carry luggage (no wheels). My friend had a new hard-sided luggage with two wheels on one end. Every time we turned a corner her luggage tipped over. Haha.

Limited security and minimal rules made flying easier. I don't remember flying being luxurious though. The seats were roomy enough but hard. No entertainment that I can remember. And the flight cost half as much as the tour which isn't that much different than today. Everyone checked their bags so boarding the plane was faster. Today it takes forever to board and get off a plane while everyone gets their things together.

Flying is a necessary evil. If I had the time I'd take a transatlantic cruise. A vacation before the vacation.

Posted by
5152 posts

These posts bring back memories. A couple of additions: Not only would the stewardesses (they were always slender, pretty women - I didn't see a male cabin attendant until sometime in the 80s) bring you a deck of cards if you were bored, there were well-stocked magazine racks! Lots of choices to get you through a long flight, not just Skymall and the company puff sheet.

When my DH and I were first dating (1966 or so) he would take me to the airport just to watch the planes take off and land. (I was a cheap date. Or he was.) The public could wander around the airport, visit the gates, or just sit and watch. I seem to remember wandering out on the tarmac once to watch a take-off close up.

Everyone made fun of airline food, but it was better than what is common now, especially on shorter flights. You'd get a meal on a flight of a couple of hours or so. The best meal I remember on a flight was to Hawaii in 1977 (I think.) The cabin crew laid out a beautiful buffet of fresh fruits. I don't remember what else there was, but the fruit was amazing. All the passengers lined up and served themselves, taking their plates back to their seats.

On at least one transatlantic flight - my first, I think, in 1968, there were so many empty seats that I was able to move to the center section and stretch out, sleeping the night away.

And yes, we all took way too much luggage, and we dressed up for the occasion. We usually wore what were considered church clothes or school clothes (back in the day.... Girls couldn't wear pants, certainly not shorts, to school. But that's another subject.)

Posted by
8002 posts

I flew to Hawaii with my parents in 1960 out of Idlewild, now JFK, on United. We were in coach from NY to SFO and on to Honolulu. There was a First Class cabin too. . We selected our seats from a cardboard seat map at gate check in by tearing off the seat number. We were given all kinds of products like sun screen and toiletries for Hawaiiand upon arrival were greeted with multiple leis. Jet service to Hawaii was a fairly new.
Flying with my young children in early 70s, across the US, Economy Class, there was a lounge area with seats and tables, snacks in front of our cabin, a separate cabin area, . We took the kids there to color in their coloring books.
Also around the same time , your economy meals were served from a buffet in the rear of the plane.
Smokers sat in the rear.
We bought our tickets at the airline ticket offices wherever we lived. Or at the airport.
For frequent flyer tickets, we earned coupons for our miles, at least on Northwest. We had to go to the airport with our coupons, stand in line (a long time) to turn in mileage coupons and have our tickets issued.
We have lost some nice perks but no more trips to airline office to get tickets and choosing seats way ahead are huge improvements.
TSA has certainly slowed things down but we have Global Entry which includes the special, faster, shoes on, TSA line. It was nice to in the past to be greeted by family and friends at the arrival gate.
Flight attendants were called Stewardesses and wore those now vintage uniforms.
Baggage collection: In NY airports you had to show baggage claim ticket to leave tne area with your luggage which was secured. It seems strange in this day and age of heightened security that this isn't done anymore.
Friends baggae was scanned as arrived at a NY airport but by the time they got to the carousel, it had been taken/ stolen. I wish this security measure were reinstated.
Still traveling bit Business Class now for long haul flights to Europe and Asia.

Posted by
2526 posts

Ahhh, bring back Wardair. Don't miss the clouds of smoke way back when.

Posted by
327 posts

As a Canadian teenager, my first commercial flight was on Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA - now Air Canada) - the entire plane was filled with excited students, teachers and chaperones bound for EXPO'67 in Montreal.

My most memorable flights were in the 1970s and 1980s on Wardair jumbo B747s from Edmonton to Honolulu and to London Gatwick. Delicious meals were served on Royal Doulton china plates, with white tablecloths on the tray tables. And after Wardair was sold to Canadian Airlines International in 1989, the WD branded china was still being used. Max Ward, who founded Wardair, still lives in Edmonton - an amazing legendary aviation pioneer, who is 95 years of age!

Posted by
1203 posts

Jane- We used to take our son to the airport to watch planes. We could go where ever we wanted to sit and watch. Back in the late 70's and early 80's our church youth group played a game. They would ask people to dress up and try to disguise themselves and go to the airport and they would come down and try to find us. (there were some pretty amazing costumes) It was so fun. I remember one of my friends spent the 3 hours in the check in line (always getting out and moving to the back before her turn) Very few people found her. I was doing pretty good avoiding people until I decided the take the tram out to the south gates. Who got on the tram with me? My younger brother. Amazingly, they always got it approved by the airport before we did it. Times have changed.

Posted by
8002 posts

I remember those outdoor terraces at the airports where you could watch planes taking off and landing too.
My husband would leave our home in Mpls a half hour before his international flights. Often they were just closing the door. Never one to waste a minute.
The worst part of flying back then was that smoking was allowed even if they had to sit in the rear.

Posted by
6802 posts

As a child in the '60s, I remember stewardesses wearing white gloves. The atmosphere was as if you were embarking on a cruise and expected to be catered to by a servant. Seems to me that fewer people were experienced flyers so they needed more attention. In the '70s, stewardesses wore miniskirts. In the '80s they became flight attendants and worked hard to not be treated like cocktail waitresses. I don't recall the food ever being great. Microwaves changed food service. Planes are faster now.

Posted by
11613 posts

I remember flying standby from Miami to London for $100 each way in the 80s.

I also remember taking four seats across for a full night's sleep.

In the late 50s, I recall stopping in Shannon to refuel, then another couple of stops to get to Napoli. I was so fascinated with flying that I never once asked "Are we there yet?"

Posted by
3703 posts

Ah, memory is such a sweet filter. Only the post by Connie touches on the essential: Flying was costly. Fellow Canadians, nobody can do what Max Ward did in a relatively open market -- including Max Ward, who went out of business. My first trans-Atlantic was in 1963, an Air France charter complete with fancy dinner menus (although not much more choice than today.) But making adjustments for inflation, long-distance flying is open to a far greater portion of the population, it's faster, the arrangements are easier, the pollution lower, and far more of the world is open. Good old days? In memory, maybe. I'm looking forward, not back.

Posted by
5152 posts

It's fun to look back, but there are things today that make travel easier. The internet makes so many things so much easier - reservations, hotels, museums. It used to be harder to make hotel reservations and daily plans. We used travel agents more, and had less flexibility. So much of it is better now.

Posted by
3180 posts

My first flight was to Europe in 1982. Deregulation in the late 1970s made airefare more affordable to middle income people and I've enjoyed flying a lot since that first overseas trip. In addition to the high cost vs income in the 60s and 70s I had no occasion to fly as my relatives lived nearby, I was from a small town in the Midwest and our most exotic field trips were by bus to St. Louis, I went to college in a neighboring state (I wanted to get away...) and it was just too expensive to fly somewhere for a vacation on an educator's salary once I was out of college.

I thank those of you business flyers and those with more income for sharing your early, fascinating stories!

Posted by
18384 posts

I've flown domestic, commercially almost every year since 1962 (Actually flew on a non-commercial flight in 1955). I've seen a huge change over that time. The food used to be pretty good, although I think by around 1980 it had declined a lot. And you used to be able to just go out to the gate to meet people or see them off. Increased security has been a big negative, although I guess necessary, change, but I really appreciate today's non-smoking flights.

I think there were 1st class seats on planes from the beginning, but business class came later.

Overall, I think to get an equivalent level of room, comfort, service, etc, as you got in coach back then, today you would have to buy a business class ticket for a lot more money, so I'm not so sure deregulation has improved anything costwise.

Posted by
1203 posts

Deregulation started about 1978. My memory and personal experience was that before that, prices were high, airlines had control over certain routes and there was no competitive pricing. Every airline charged the same for a route and you picked what time worked best for you. Tickets were always refundable. In 1977, my husband and I wanted to fly to Wisconsin to visit his family....but it was too expensive and we drove. In 1980, we got a great fare and we flew to visit them. After 1978, I can remember scanning the airfares in the newspaper for the best deal.

Having said that, I think Lee makes a good point. You can still have the luxuries of pre-deregulation if you pay for it. As for me, deregulation opened up the world of travel by making an economy class I can afford.

The second great thing that happened in travel was the internet....and I have a bunch of examples of that as well...for another day and a different topic.

Posted by
1414 posts

In the 60's in remember seeing many tote style bags that had an airline's logo prominently displayed on the side. I'm assuming they gave them away for booking a flight or tour with them. - Pan Am, TWA, etc.

In the 80's American Air used to have a camera in the cockpit that would show the takeoff on the big screen at the front of the cabin.

Posted by
13007 posts

A lot of memories when reading these accounts of flying in the days of yesteryear. I flew for the first time in 1971 at the age of 21 going from Oakland to Gatwick on a charter flight on a DC-8. Of course, I was nervous. I flew two more times r/t to Europe in Economy before the end of the 1970s. In 1973 SFO to Paris Orly on TWA (if you remember that one) for $ 425 r/t in the summer. In 1977 the third trip to Europe, again late summer mid-Aug to Sept, 5 weeks on Air France, SFO-LAX-Paris CDG. True, I would agreed food was much better, especially on Air France. . You had real silverware, not plastic. Compared to now, I liked the food then better than now, more style, better prepared. Now, it's perfunctory.

Free headphones were passed out. All flight attendants were women, no guys back then, and you called them stewardesses. Smoking was allowed in one section. I always got a seat in the non-smoking section. You were asked that at check-in. Your luggage was checked...free, regardless of the number of bags. Even the charter flight in 1971 allowed each passenger 60 lbs.

Domestically, I flew once in the '70s, to Texas for vacation in Aug 1976, open-jaw SFO to Houston, San Antonio to SFO. I think the seating in Economy then was more comfortable, don't recall the sardine-can feeling which sometimes now is obvious. The return flight, either on Continental Airlines or American, (don't recall which), was just bad luck for the stewardesses, the movie apparatus didn't work, so no movie, the kitchen stopped working, so there were those passengers who didn't get their hot food, one thing after another didn't work...really bad luck. I think they must have been embarrassed , they kept apologizing, I felt sorry for them.

Posted by
696 posts

I'll skip commenting on things that have already been mentioned--stewardesses, smoking, food, meeting at the gate, etc., etc. How about airlines? Pan American was the airline for overseas travel. Braniff used to fly to points in Central and South America. Varig was the Brazilian airline. Many domestic airlines have come and gone--Eastern, National, and more. There was an airline in Central and South America named Panagra--Pan American Grace Airways. Fun reading all this!

Posted by
6802 posts

I'll throw this in for the heck of it. Kansas City was the maintenance hub for TWA, our Hometown Airline. There are plenty of TWA retirees still around, and lots of old collectibles show up in garage (UK: tag) sales. There is a small museum here celebrating the Slavic community, which has a display of the special bed that Pope John Paul II used when he flew (exclusively) on TWA to the US, complete with TWA logo seatbelt that wraps around the bed.

Posted by
9929 posts

Altho folks have enjoyed their reminiscences, (and I've enjoyed reading them) I find it very odd that the OP has never come back. At the same time s/he posted here there was also cross post of the same thread on Trip Advisor that was zapped right away.

We are certainly good at entertaining ourselves here but I guess I am wondering if they are writing an article or blog? Or what was their motivation?

Posted by
5152 posts

Pam, she does have a few other posts, but they're just bland comments, all posted within a couple of days last September.

I just assumed she was doing some kind of research, but it is odd she hasn't chimed in somewhere along the way.

Posted by
9929 posts

Yeah, I did notice those other posts as well. I looked at the posting history as soon as I saw the thread and the companion one over at TA.

Posted by
1796 posts

In 1960 as a 10 year old, I flew unaccompanied from L.A. to Boston where my aunt failed to meet me ( she arrived about 15 minutes later ). I never considered getting any help from airline personnel, although I probably would have if she wasn't there after an hour.. Now the airlines are so afraid.

Prices today are much better. I paid essentially the same fare as I did in 1987.

Even after smokers were relegated to the back, the smoke still pervaded the entire cabin.