A trip to the airport during the Golden Age of travel was a far cry from the experience passengers have today. Instead of a long, stressful day spent waiting in lines and wolfing down some fast food before boarding, flying during the 1950s and 1960s was marked by glamour, lavish meals, and lots of leg room, not to mention cigarettes and cigars for your smoking pleasure. Vintage airplane pictures show the sheer volume of perks that airlines adopted to get people to fly.
Stewardesses, pilots, and passengers spent their time in the friendly skies surrounded by luxury, but the experience had down sides as well. Despite the many headaches built into modern air travel, it is still safe and (relatively) reliable. During the Golden Age, passengers had to put up with a fair amount of noise and danger, creating some questions about just how "golden" the period really was. Here's what it was really like so you can decide for yourself.
Your Ticket Cost A Lot
When booking a flight today, travelers have plenty of alternatives to try and find the best price on a trip. During the Golden Age, the options were more limited and, after accounting for inflation, way more expensive. According to a TWA brochure from 1955, a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Phoenix cost $138, which looks like a good deal. When you account for inflation, though, the not-even-cross-country trip would cost about $1,200 today.
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 was so cost prohibitive at the time that only the wealthiest could afford it.
You'd Need To Dress Up If You Wanted To Fit In
Since flights cost as much as a luxurious experience, passengers generally dressed in appropriate attire with three-piece suits and hats for men and dresses, high heels, and fine jewelry for women. Passengers saved up their money to fly and it was a big event, so wanting to look one's best made perfect sense. During the 1960s, it became more acceptable for men to dress down a bit with a flowered tie or turtle-neck shirt. Women could don scarves and maybe even fashionable beads. It wasn't until the 1980s that the clothes stopped making the passenger, so to speak, and travelers started dressing for comfort when flying.
You Didn't Have To Go Through Security
Without security check points slowing things down, getting through the airport was a breeze. You didn't need your ID and you could show up as the airport 20 or 30 minutes before the flight to basically walk right onto the plane. Family and friends could walk you right to the gate. Sounds nice, right?
Maybe not. Any time saved avoiding security on the way to a flight may have be undone by someone commandeering the plane and diverting it to Cuba or some other 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.
You Had Plenty Of Room At Your Seat
On flights in the early 1950s, travelers didn't have 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, and even after airlines started adding first-class sections, everyday passengers still had significantly more leg room than a modern aircraft. First-class passengers would have something resembling a hotel room, complete with beds, while economy class seating was more akin to what business class is on modern flights.