The Golden Age of Flying Wasn’t as Glamorous as You’d Think

Travelling can be exhausting. Just ask most frequent fliers you know and they’ll probably withdraw into a moody gaze, tell you they’ve had quite enough of the stale coffee and city jaunting (also likely listing their oxygenated suffering skin that is slowly being drained out of its suppleness). Many argue that flying today – despite the addition of modern technologies and various beauty products to combat the apparent damages of flying too much – is not the fantastic experience that many claim.

Perhaps it helps to think back to the supposed Golden Age of Flying, imagine what it was like five decades ago, the novelty and romanticism of an emerging era world’s away from cramped seats, overworked crowds and jaded stewardesses. Ahh, the veritable good old days, when the elite travelled on two wing Duesenberg. If only reality complied with this romantic vision…

Read also: 7 Reasons Flying Was More Fun in “The Golden Age of Travel”

#1 Elusively Expensive

A throwback to the 1960s

As commercial aviation took flight, you’d expect fares to be sky high and true enough – they were. While travelling now appears commonplace, with airports filled to the brim with passing travellers, in those days you’d likely fork out over 40% more than today’s aviation prices. As aviation history expert and professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright College, Guillaume de Syon said to Fastcodesign, “It was four to five times as expensive to fly in the Golden Age. If you were a secretary, it might cost you a month’s salary to take even a short flight.”

#2 Definitely Dangerous

The Miami terminal in 1940

Five times the price of yesterday’s plane ticket also comes with five times the chance of dying on a flight back in the ‘50s, compared with today. Today’s turbulence, while terrifying to new fliers (with its suspicious jerks and lurches), is often only scary on the surface. Back then, however, a turbulence patch could break your neck, especially when prop planes were the norm. Also, de Syon adds that back in the Golden Age, statistically there were way more flight accidents and plane crashes than today. Even a trip to the in-flight bathroom could turn into a horror-fest – since safety was not quite the priority in aviation interior design, a careless trip could land you on the sharp edges of tables or chairs.

#3 Secondhand Smokiness

Pan Am Express

These days, you can’t smoke without being penalised, or even escorted off the flight. Back then, however, it wasn’t  just allowed, but encouraged. It was a commonplace scenario to fly in a smoky cabin back in the ‘50s, where even pipes and cigars were on most passengers lips and stewardesses were there with a light and a smile. Also, free drinks were also a feature of the Golden Age, where having too many and ending up hammered was part of the privilege.

“Memoirs written during the Golden Age of Flying are filled with lively accounts of drunken passengers,” explains de Syon, describing that people went easy on the scotch and got hammered to make the unbearably long flights pass more quickly.

Fly me to the moon

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Photo credits: Main1, 2, and 3


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