Weird History

Why Don't Planes Fly Any Faster Than They Did In The 1960s?

Anyone who has ever flown on a commercial airliner will be familiar with a very specific sequence of events: boarding, stowing luggage, shuffling over to a tightly packed seat with little leg room, buckling up, and listening to a well-rehearsed flight attendant read off all the rules and regulations you’ll need to follow. At this point, you aren’t even in the air yet, but you’re already asking yourself, “Why can’t planes get faster?”

The average commercial plane flies at speeds of up to 500 knots (about 575 mph) while reaching altitudes between 31,000 and 38,000 feet (about 5.9 to 7.2 miles above sea level). And these numbers have been essentially the same since the Golden Age of Flying in the 1960s, when air transportation became more accessible both in price and convenience. In some cases, the speed of commercial planes has actually slowed down.

Despite numerous technological advances and upgrades to aircraft, a trip that took an hour in the 1960s still takes around an hour today, if not longer. The rising price of fuel and tickets have played a part, but there are actually a number of reasons why planes aren’t faster today than they were decades ago.