Yesterday evening, I boarded a plane from New York to California.
I sat in a totally average $US200 seat, scrunched in the very back row — 44 — in coach. I wasn’t allowed to pick my seat before the flight.
Flying didn’t always used to be such a drag. There were cheery flight attendants, steak dinners, and lounges on board. A lot of it has been documented by EverythingPanAm.com, an online museum for Pan American. Pan American was the largest international airline from 1927 until 1991 when it went out of business.
Here’s what flying used to be like, and what we suffer through now.
There used to be no security at airports. You just showed up and boarded the flight. Some parts of the world still do that. But not many anymore. I waited in security for 45 minutes and barely made my gate in time to board.
Here's one on display in an ad from the 1970s. United called this lounge in coach the 'friendship room.'
Some planes even had little beds. This picture is also from the 1950s. There's not much lounging like this anymore.
Look at all that leg room. Those people from the 50s are practically reclined in their coach seats. And note, they're dressed up for the flight.
My leg room was ok, but I'm short. (Note: I'm wearing pants, not shorts on a plane to California. I'm not dressed up, but my boss Henry will be happy -- he doesn't approve of shorts on planes).
Smoking was allowed on plans until the 1980s. PanAm used to make its own branded lighters and matches, like the ones below.
Now there are no signs of ash trays anywhere. That's actually a good thing. Old ones always had gum stuck in them and I'd rather not go down in flames.
Kids used to be given free toys when they flew. Airlines had storybooks, model planes, and pins to hand out. Here are some trinkets PanAm used to offer passengers.
While the free toys have been killed off, I was grateful for my personal TV. I watched two free movies on it, but many of the others cost $US6 to watch. My digital flight map was broken.
Women used to get one-third off their fares in the 1970s. I paid the same fare yesterday as everyone else. But I'm not complaining -- equality is an improvement in the airline industry.
But the biggest difference between flying 40 years ago and now is the food. Before, there were entire menus of food items to choose from.
Meanwhile, Delta told me it 'sold out of everything cooked except hamburgers' on the flight. So I paid $US8.99 for my meal, Tapas.
It included apricots, olives and hummus. There was no free dinner served despite it being a 6.5 hour evening flight.
The only free things I got were a few cups of water, a set of faulty headphones and two little bags of pretzels.
Another big difference between flying then and now: people used to be happy -- even excited -- to fly.
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Or see what it's like to fly in style now:
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