How the Airline Industry Has Changed Over the Years

When airplane travel was still in its infancy, it was a very different experience than it is today.

On the one hand, the so-called Golden Age of Travel was glamorous and exciting, and air travel was treated as a high class affair. However, the rides were much longer, bumpier, and definitely didn’t feature onboard Wi-Fi!

Curious about what’s changed? Let’s take a brief tour of how the airline industry has changed over the years.

People Used To Dress Up For Flights

Black and white vintage photo of well-dressed passengers on an airplane
Credit: Everett Historical/ Shutterstock.com

Once upon a time, it was customary to dress up for flights. While there was no official dress code, it was pretty normal to see men wearing dress suits. Women wore suits or dresses, makeup, and perfectly coiffed hair.

As the years have passed, flying has become casual, and so has the style of dress. Typically, people dress for comfort when traveling these days, and you’re likely to see plenty of pajamas, sweatpants, hoodies, and flip-flops when you’re lining up to board.

Photo of the "no smoking" and "fasten seatbelt" signs on an airplane
Credit: sasacvetkovic33/ iStock

It’s hard to imagine someone lighting a cigarette on an airplane. And yet 30 years ago, it wouldn’t have been unusual at all. There were even ashtrays on most planes.

Ralph Nader, who later became a presidential hopeful, was one of the first to call for a ban on smoking in planes. In 1971, United Airlines became the first airline to add a non-smoking section, and others eventually followed.

First, smoking was banned on domestic flights. But by the year 2000, all domestic and international flights were smoke-free in the U.S.

Flight Attendants Had to Look a Certain Way

Photo of a flight attendant pushing a cart down the aisle of an airplane
Credit: Hispanolistic/ iStock

In the days of yore, flight attendants were held to standards that seem a bit ridiculous today. For instance, it wasn’t unusual for an airline to mandate that their flight attendants wear a girdle and high heels.

Height and weight were also concerns. According to one manual, to be eligible for the job you needed to be between 5’2” and 5’6” and maintain a weight of 105-125 pounds. It was of great importance to be “properly proportioned and not to exceed 125 during employment.”

Flying Was For Jet-Setters

Photo of a glass of champagne on a luxurious private airplane
Credit: Panmaule/ iStock

Flying used to be much more expensive, relative to the average income.

For example, in the 1950s, a one-way flight between Los Angeles and Kansas City might cost about $70. Adjusted for inflation today, that’s over $700. So at that time, plane tickets were a significant investment, and to be able to purchase them was a sign of wealth.

As with technology, advancements in flight have allowed for more affordable travel. These days, you can book a ticket from Philadelphia to Denver for less than $100 or a ticket from New York City to Bangkok for well under $1,000. This opens up world travel to a variety of classes beyond just the wealthy.

It’s a Much Smoother Ride Today

Photo of a woman sleeping with a neck pillow in an airplane seat
Credit: undrey/ iStock

When the airline industry first started out, the flying technology was not as advanced as it is today. One big difference? We can fly higher now. These days, the so-called cruising altitude is usually around 35,000 feet. At this height, you can avoid most turbulence and enjoy a fairly smooth ride.

Early on, most planes had much lower cruising altitudes, which made turbulence much more likely and so, too, a far bumpier ride.

Ready to Check In?

Credit: tttuna/ iStock

With its glitz and glamour, it’s easy to romanticize the Golden Age of Travel. However, many modern-day conveniences and technical advancements in flight have made it a more affordable and comfortable experience today... even if the seats have gotten way smaller!

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

The 5 Newest States (Besides Alaska and Hawaii)

Related article image

What (and Where) Is Death Valley?

Related article image

Most Bizarre Town Names in the U.S.