A trip to the airport during the Golden Age of travel was a far cry from what passengers experience today. Instead of a long, stressful day spent waiting in lines and wolfing down fast food before boarding, flying during the 1950s and 1960s involved glamour, lavish meals, and lots of legroom - not to mention cigarettes and cigars for your smoking pleasure. Vintage airplane pictures show the sheer volume of perks airlines adopted to entice people to fly.
Flight attendants, pilots, and passengers spent their time in the friendly skies surrounded by luxury, but the experience came with downsides, too. Despite the many headaches built into modern air travel, it remains safe and (relatively) reliable. During the Golden Age, passengers endured a fair amount of noise and danger. So, was the period really a golden one? See what air travel used to look like and decide for yourself.
When booking a flight today, travelers posses plenty of options when trying to find the best price for a trip. During the Golden Age, choices were more limited - and way more expensive. According to a TWA brochure from 1955, a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Phoenix cost $138, which seems like a good deal. When you account for inflation, though, the not-even-cross-country trip cost about $1,200 in today's money.
According to aviation history expert Guillaume de Syon, "[Depending] on the route, it was four to five times as expensive to fly in the Golden Age." International travel, meanwhile, was so cost prohibitive, only the wealthiest could afford it.
Since flights were a luxurious experience, passengers generally dressed in appropriate attire - three-piece suits and hats for men, and dresses, high heels, and fine jewelry for women. Passengers saved up to fly, and it was a big event - so wanting to look your best made perfect sense.
During the 1960s, it became more acceptable for men to dress down a bit with a flowered tie or turtleneck shirt. Women could don scarves and even fashionable beads. It wasn't until the 1980s, though, that clothes stopped making the passenger, and travelers began dressing for comfort when flying.
Without security checkpoints slowing things down, getting through the airport was a breeze. You didn't need your ID, and you could show up at the airport 20 or 30 minutes before your flight and basically walk right onto the plane. So, family and friends could walk you directly to the gate. Sounds nice, right?
Maybe not. Any time saved avoiding security may have been undone by someone commandeering the plane and diverting it to Cuba or another unintended destination. The lack of oversight on the ground led to a "Golden Age of hijacking," as well. In the 1960s, there were dozens of plane hijackings every year, making air travel decidedly less safe.
On flights in the early 1950s, travelers didn't need to decide between business or economy class seats, because there wasn't a distinction between them. Those early flights were luxurious from the front to the back of the cabin. Even after airlines started adding first-class sections, everyday passengers still had significantly more legroom than on a modern aircraft. First-class passengers received something resembling a hotel room, complete with beds, while economy class seating was more akin to business class on current flights.