Anne and Carl Deane are travel experts and online bloggers. In the following article, Anne and Carl Deane explain the “Golden Age” of travel, and why the decades from the 1950s to the 1970s were the most interesting times in air travel history.
Many people firmly believe flying in an airplane is the worst form of transportation available today – with tiny seats, excessive fees, lost luggage and lackluster food; it’s enough to make anyone want to scream. However, what many folks might not know is that airplane travel used to be a considered a luxury to those who could afford it, and was a commonly sought after career opportunity.
Why the “Golden Age” was so Golden
The Golden Age of travel was when airplane voyages were considered a glamorous luxury. It entailed several different opportunities that are no longer available in modern-day flying. Many former flight crews and passengers recall this time period of travel as a “high-class, polite cocktail party among the clouds”.
Passengers have been conditioned to have low expectations when it comes to food options on modern day flights. Peanuts, pretzels, and cookies are commonplace, while those who are willing to shell out a few bucks may get a more “substantial” meal.
Anne and Carl Deane report that during the Golden Age of travel, guests would be more likely to see four or five course meals that included pineapples studded with shrimp, charcuterie boards, caviar served from ice sculptures, and meals such as chicken pot pie or roast beef. Champagne was often served as well, and many airlines had full-service bars and dining rooms on board.
Forget rude flight attendants! Flying during the Golden Age meant that passengers were given the royal treatment. Anne and Carl Deane explain that the flight crews from these popular airlines (Pan Am and Delta, specifically) were often expected to hang around and chat with passengers post-flight at their destination. Comradery and social activity was part of the travel experience. Grabbing a drink with the flight crew was very commonplace, as well as interaction with the crew during the flight itself.
During mealtimes, flight attendants were essentially on-board hostesses and waitresses. They set down tablecloths and were expected to wait on passengers, such as refilling their drinks and bringing extra food if requested.
Dress to Impress
Anne and Carl Deane explain that, because flying was considered to be such a high-class luxury, the majority of passengers dressed to the nines for their flight. This meant gloves and dress suits or hats for women, suits, and ties for men. Buying an airplane ticket was also quite expensive, so only middle- and upper-class individuals could ever really afford it. Dressing up was more of a standard back then.
These two decades were also a time when only women could be flight attendants. This played largely into the gender roles of the time – the role of women, especially in the 1950s, was primarily that of caretakers. However, a flight crew career provided women with a chance to see the world when they likely wouldn’t have otherwise had that chance.
Lots of Space
Anne and Carl Deane say that there have been several instances in recent headlines where passengers got into fights because of lack of space, another guest impeding on space, or crossing that invisible line of personal space. The battle for the most legroom often comes down to who is willing to pay more for a first-class ticket. In the Golden Age, though, space was never an issue.
Anne and Carl Deane explain that airplanes had wide lanes and there were often areas built inside of the cabin that acted as lounge or smoking areas. There were no overhead bins because airlines allowed people to check in their luggage for free. Can you imagine not having to pay to bring along luggage!?!
Can these Golden Age Standards Survive in Today’s Culture
While the Golden Age of flying sounds ideal, was it really that great? Does it make sense to be nostalgic about this time in airline history?
Old Fashioned Views
Anne and Carl Deane explain that, while anyone can work as a flight attendant today, during the Golden Age, only women could fill that role. Specifically, there was a certain “look” that women who applied for the position needed to have, such as being attractive, polite, and having a slim build.
The crew uniforms were usually short and skirted, often being tighter to show off a woman’s curves. Makeup was a requirement. Given modern standards and people now standing up more against sexism and sexual harassment, this aspect of this time period would not go over well today, nor be considered “politically correct”.
Anne and Carl Deane report that all airlines prohibit smoking now, but back in the mid-20th century, smoking was commonplace and allowed virtually everywhere, including on airplanes. Health experts now know about the hazards that smoking and secondhand smoke cause.
Anne and Carl Deane explain that flying during this 20+ year period was a luxury and also very expensive. The fact that more people of socio-economic backgrounds can hop on a flight opens up the benefits of travel to more of society.
The Golden Age, while seemingly great on paper, seems to have had a lot of barriers to entry. The majority of those who could afford air travel were usually of upper-class status. Despite the many downsides of flying in the present day, it’s become a far more widely available means of travel, where more people of various socio-economic backgrounds can afford to do so. Flight crews now include both women and men, women can pilot the plane, and men can serve as flight attendants.