What Your Typical Day Was Like During ‘The Golden Age’ Of Commercial Flying


    Travel back in time to the 1950s through the 1970s, the heyday of aviation. Flying at the time was all about elegance and luxury. Imagine boarding an aircraft where every detail, including the seats and the outfits, is elegant and sophisticated. Every flight during this unique period in aviation history felt like a grand adventure.

    A Luxurious Ride in the Sky: The Golden Age of Flying

    golden age of flying - Bacchanalian motifs served as a backdrop to cocktail hour on Lufthansa's first-class 'Senator' service in 1958
    Image Credit: Keith Lovegrove

    Flying in its heyday was very delightful. Aviation historian Graham M. Simons remembers that “air travel at that time was something special.” It was opulent. It went smoothly. It happened quickly as well. The crew appeared as though they had just stepped out of a fashion magazine, and the seats were spacious. “People dressed up because of it,” claims Simons.

    Your Ticket Cost a Lot

    When it comes to booking a flight today, travelers are spoiled for choice, with numerous options available to find the best price for their journey.
    Image Credit: 1950sUnlimited / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Travelers today have a plethora of alternatives when it comes to booking a flight, with multiple search engines accessible to help them discover the best deal. However, options were far more constrained and much more costly during the Golden Age of Air Travel. Consider the $138 price of a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Phoenix, as stated in a 1955 TWA brochure. This could appear like a fair offer at first glance. However, this non-cross-country trip would cost you roughly $1,200 in today’s currency after accounting for inflation.

    Guillaume de Syon, a specialist in aviation history, clarifies the startling cost disparities of the Golden Age. “[Depending] on the route, flying was four to five times more expensive in the Golden Age,” he writes. Only the wealthiest people could afford to travel, especially abroad, because it was so expensive.


    A Feast for the Senses: Fancy Food and Great Service

    golden age of flying - Sunday roast is carved for passengers in first class on a BOAC VC10 in 1964
    Image Credit: Keith Lovegrove

    During the height of aviation, airlines made great efforts to wow customers with their mouthwatering cuisine and first-rate service. “The airlines were marketing their flights as luxurious means of transport,” continues Simons. They offered elaborate dinners that included foie gras and caviare. Some even had onboard fashion displays! “We started with canapés, then we came out with a cart with appetizers, which included beluga caviar and foie gras,” says former flight attendant Suzy Smith.

    Relaxed Rules and Fun Memories

    Pan American World Airways is perhaps the airline most closely linked with the 'Golden age'
    Image Credit: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Then, flying was much more casual. Talking about vintage flying, Keith Lovegrove is often reminded of how carefree it all was.”It resembled attending a cocktail party.” that seems absurd to say that now, but back then, having a shirt, tie, and jacket was standard,” Lovegrove says. You could bring anything on board, even shoebox-filled pet birds! There was far less stringent security, which allowed individuals to have more fun. “There was an incredible sense of freedom,” Lovegrove continues.


    Pan Am: The King of Cool

    golden age of flying - A Pan Am flight attendant serves champagne in the first class cabin of a Boeing 747 jet
    Image Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images

    Pan Am was one airline that caused a stir. Working for them, according to Joan Policastro, was like flying with the stars. Policastro remembers, “My job with Pan Am was an adventure from the very day I started.” They featured cool lounges where travelers could linger out and offered fine food. It was the height of opulent travel.

    Your Flight Attendant Had to Meet a Lot of Intrusive Requirements

    During the Golden Age of air travel, flight attendants were not only expected to provide impeccable service but also adhere to strict appearance and behavioral standards.
    Image Credit: SAS Museet / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    In the heyday of air travel, flight attendants were held to exacting standards of etiquette and appearance in addition to providing flawless service. Air hostesses, as they were called, wore high heels, white gloves, and even corsets under their suits starting in the early 1950s.

    Travelers had to adhere to strict guidelines about how they should look, which included restrictions on weight and hair length. Other requirements for female flight attendants included being single, gregarious, and adhering to “high moral standards.” As the 1960s wore mostly male customers, shorter skirts and even more exposing clothing became the norm. These onerous specifications are a reflection of the great importance that this generation has put on flight attendant appearance.

    Looking Back with Fondness

    golden age of flying - A first-class 'Slumberette' on a Lockheed Constellation, in the early 1950s
    Image Credit: Keith Lovegrove

    People still grin when they recall the bygone era of flying, despite the passage of time. Reunions of former Pan Am employees are preserved through organizations like World Wings. Suzy Smith remarks, “Pan Am was a big cut above the rest.” People considered flying to be a true adventure and a way to feel like kings and queens back then.


    Travelers are served a buffet on board a Lockheed Super Constellation while flying with former American airline Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1955
    Image Credit: Mondadori via Getty Images

    Though the heyday of aviation may be passed, the memories endure. Flying at the time was all about luxury and enjoyment. Despite the fact that times have changed, we can still look back and recall the magic of bygone eras.