“The golden age of air travel” • Fred Johnson
I read an obituary last week (a common practice at my age) in which it said the person became a registered nurse and joined Delta Airlines as a stewardess in 1941 when stewardesses were required to be RNs. This story started a nostalgic recall of my experiences with air travel.
I began flying in 1957. Back then, air travel was special. The passengers wore suits and ties, the stewardesses were young and beautiful, the meals and service were great and they passed out cigarettes with the meals. If the flight was delayed after boarding, they announced that beverage service was free until takeoff. Airline fares were regulated, so the airlines competed with their food and service.
After airlines were deregulated in 1978, they invented frequent flyer programs where passengers could earn mileage points to upgrade to first class, the Crown Room and trade points for free domestic and international tickets. I was fortunate enough to be a frequent flyer during that period and the living was good. Jeanie became spoiled because when we went on vacation we waited for our flight in the Crown Room and flew first class. On a recent flight to Dallas, Jeanie found out how much things have changed when she asked the flight attendant where the hang up closet was and could she please have a pillow and a blanket. Alas, those things disappeared years ago. “Would you like a bag of peanuts for your lunch or a bag of pretzels? No, you can’t have both.”
The TV series “Pan Am” shows how glamorous air travel was in the 1960s. I flew Pan Am a few times on international flights and I have to agree that Pan Am was number one for passenger service. In Singapore, their flight attendants blocked the exit doors until the first class passengers were deplaned and followed them to baggage claim to assist them in retrieving their luggage. Their first class meals included caviar, assorted canapés, roast beef carved at your seat and cherries jubilee for desert (with apologies that they could not flame them).
It goes without saying that you could arrive at the airport 30 minutes before your flight and proceed directly to your gate and board the aircraft. If you had a short connection, the airline would take you down the ramp and drive you across the tarmac to your gate.
There is some debate about whether the golden age of travel was the 1950s, or the 1980s. I believe I can say that I lived through it whenever it was. One thing is for certain; the golden age is not in this century.
Printed in the May 31, 2012 edition