This Is What Air Travel Was Really Like Back In The Day

By lheidi - May 03, 2019

Nowadays, flying is one of the top ten worst experiences a person can go through in their lifetime. Airplanes are glorified sky buses, and you’re guaranteed to end up sitting next to a baby that cries the whole flight, no matter when, where, or what time you fly. You could switch seats to get away from the crying baby, and you’d still end up sitting next to one somehow. How are there so many kids on planes?

But back in the day, flying on an airplane was a completely different experience. It was something people looked forward to. They got dressed up for it. They left the kids at home with the babysitter, because flying was the equivalent of a fancy night out on the town. In fact, we’re pretty sure kids in the past were expected to behave the same way as adults, including having a job and a 401K.

Pan Am


Pan Am doesn’t exist anymore, but it was once the largest airline in the world, until it folded in 1991.

It’s powder blue globe-snapped logo is now iconic. The airline’s influence was so strong, it’s still remembered almost thirty years after its demise.

Pan Am’s flagship terminal was located at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, but it flew to locations all around the world, both exotic, like Cuba, and not exotic, like Cleveland.

Tarmac Boarding


If you’ve never done tarmac boarding at an airport, then you’ve never really lived your life!

Back in the day, you used to have to cross across the tarmac, then climb tiny plane stairs to be able to board your airplane.

Tarmac boarding still happens nowadays, but most people don’t have to walk outside to walk inside the plane. There’s a ramp that takes you directly from the gate. Which is a shame, because tarmac boarding is the best!



Nowadays, we call them flight attendants, but after the advent of aviation, the women who looked after you in the sky were called stewardesses.

Stewardesses were more like models who would tell you to fasten your seatbelt. They were supposed to be beautiful, slender women there to cater to your every need.

Some standards for stewardesses (as well as the name stewardess) have been retired over the year, but they were once the most glamorous things to grace the sky!



Stewardesses were hired partially based on their looks, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they had to deal with more than their fair share of sexism.

They’d have to deal with the wandering hand of a creepy co-pilot every now and then.

And to top it off, they would get fired if they wanted to get married, and they could also get fired if they reached the ripe old age of 32. Yes, that really happened to some women!

On Flight Fashion


Since stewardesses were supposed to look glamorous and aspirational, airline companies put a lot of thought into their uniforms.

Sometimes, airlines would even hire famous fashion designers to design uniforms for their staff of stunning stewardesses.

When the mod look became popular in the 1960s, airline companies had their stewardesses wear more futuristic looking uniforms, which makes it look like flying is out of this world! Of course, now they look dated. But back then, they were… um…futuristic?

Smoking On Airplanes


Modern airlines still have a sign that says if you can smoke or not, and the answer is always no.

Why have it if there’s no time when you can ever light one up? But back in the past, people were totally allowed to puff away when they were mid-flight.

We don’t know why anyone would want to spend hours sitting in recycled air next to someone who’s smoking, but times were different in the 20th century. People were totally fine with it.

Alchohol On Airplanes


You can still get alcohol when you’re on an airplane. Some people can’t fly without it.

But it’s nothing like what it used to be. Flights used to have fully stocked bars, not just a tiny little bottle of the cheapest red wine around.

The alcohol was also completely free. It’s hard to get anything for free on an airplane nowadays. It’s a wonder they don’t charge extra to have a seat with a seatbelt on it.

The Plane's Exterior


The exteriors of airplanes were sometimes painted, which turned them into colorful works of art.

They weren’t just bland pieces of metal propelling through the air. They were colorful statements, carefully made by the airline companies.

Sometimes, airline companies would even hire famous artists to cover their planes with a funky design. Which do you think is better? To have your work in a museum or to have your work all over the side of an airplane?

The Plane's Interior


But the airlines didn’t just worry about what their planes looked like on the outside. They thought about the inside a lot, too.

There was a lot more room to move around the cabin, and some airplanes were even two stories.

Economy would be at the bottom, and first class would be at the top, and there would be a winding staircase that would connect the two. Damn! And we can’t even get leg room these days!

Ticket Price


It seems like they charge you an arm and a leg to fly, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.

An airplane ticket used to be very expensive. It was also a lot more luxurious, because when you’re paying that much you better have a nice time!

Once airlines started cutting the luxury, they also started cutting the price. And now, flying can be cheaper than driving, depending on where you’re going. Although, we’d love some luxury, too!

Plane Crashes


You’re more likely to be mauled to death by a donkey than you are to be killed in a plane crash.

But when flying was newer, plane crashes were more frequent. You were five times as likely to die in a plane crash than you are now.

We’re not sure if donkeys were more dangerous back then, too. Turbulence was also something you had to worry about, and it could kill you if you hit your head on the plane’s ceiling!

In Flight Entertainment


Before the days of laptops and cellphones, people had to find other ways to entertain themselves on a really long flight.

So airlines would give people a stack of postcards when they got on the plane, so people could write to their friends and family while on the flight.

We’re pretty sure that people would just use them to brag about how fancy they are because they’re able to afford the high price of going on an airplane.

Airplane Bathrooms

Airplane bathrooms are so small, that we can’t even say they’re the size of a closet. Closets are way more roomy.

Airplane bathrooms used to be the size of a regular bathroom. So, yes, you had room to stretch out if you wanted.

We think that airlines either made them smaller to be able to fit more people on the plane or to stop people from joining the mile high club. Nobody’s going to want to do that when they’re so cramped!

Dress Code


Flying was considered a fancy activity, so if you were going to fly, you had to dress up for it.

Some people would even wear formal attire to go on a plane, which just sounds uncomfortable to sit in a suit for five hours in the sky.

Dressing nice enough could also get you an upgrade to first class if there were any seats open in the section. Maybe we should try that trick the next time we fly?

Party In The Sky


If flying on an airplane in the past sounds great, just know that it’s better than you’re imagining.

People would have plane parties. There were so many lounges on the plane, that people could mix and mingle with other passengers.

Remember, people didn’t have cell phones or movies, so the only thing there really was to do was get drunk, try to make new friends, and make inappropriate passes at the super young and super pretty stewardesses!

Airport Security


Airport security used to be more relaxed before September 11th. It’s hard to believe how chill it used to be.

For starters, you could have the people picking you up greet you right at the gate.

You also didn’t have to show your ID before you got on the plane. They would just use the honor system when it came to making sure you weren’t someone who was going to hijack the plane. Their word is good enough, right?

Airplane Food


Today you’re lucky if you get a bag of nuts. People have allergies. It’s a whole thing.

In the past, airlines would basically serve feasts for people. You spent so much time in the sky, that they’d give you a nice meal.

And not just any meal, it would be a multiple course meal with several options available. So you’d never have to buy an overpriced, soggy poor excuse for a sandwich at the terminal before your flight.

Knives On Airplanes


Nowadays, they would confiscate even a dull paperclip because they’re afraid it could be used as a deadly weapon.

But there was once a time when they used to actually give you sharp objects on a plane.

When they gave you your fancy, three-course meal, they’d also give you a sharp knife. How else are you supposed to cut the steak your airline gives out for dinner? With a plastic spork? No way! It’s stainless steal knives all the way!

Baggage Claim


There was once a day when you wouldn’t have to wait at a carousel to get your bags after a flight.

There would be a porter who would go and get your bag for you. You’d point it out, and he’d grab it for you.

That sounds so much better than having to stand around waiting for your bag to come around on the carousel. For some reason, it’s always the last bag to come down that shoot!

Service In The Sky


You got better service all around when you would fly a long, long time ago.

Between the ample leg room, the free food, and the free booze, airplanes were pretty much flying fancy private clubs you could pay to get on.

Now, traveling by air is pretty much a miserable experience we’ll only do if we have to do it. If we lived a long time ago, we’d book a flight just for the sake of being on a plane!