Can you remember what flying was like before there were full-body security scanners and in-flight entertainment on your personal little screen? This vintage photo series shows what life was really like onboard. All we can say for sure is that flying in the Golden Age was very, very different from what we see today.
Between the cabins full of smoke, and the formal attire, we can now peek inside the vintage world of flying. We are loving the colorful patterns that take us straight back to the 50s and 60s. And of course, the fashion because we love nothing more than vintage fashion. So let’s jump right in and head down memory lane!
Ready for Check In
Back in the 1960s, passengers could fly without any form of ID. They didn’t need a passport, or even a license to get them on to the plane. And because of that, there was no need for people to show up hours before their flight. They could just walk straight up to the gate and hop on board.
But at the same time, this check-in desk is everything we love and more. The wallpaper behind the desk and the wooden details are the first things that we notice. This one is a whole lot funkier and fun than we have now! And imagine being greeted by a check-in assistant that looks like they just finished a barbershop quartet performance.
To Your Liking?
Flights were definitely more expensive in the first few decades of common commercial flying. But you got more for what you paid. The fashion was more formal, the food was better and then, alcohol was top of the range. And just like being in a fancy restaurant, it was offered to individuals to look at the make and year of production.
There definitely isn’t that kind of service today. Yes, there are options and yes, there is plenty of alcohol to hit the spot but it definitely isn’t served as we see here in fancy glassware. Today it is all about efficiency with time, space and budget. Flights are a lot less glamorous nowadays.
The Boeing 707 popped up in the sky at the end of the 1950s. This was revolutionary to the world of flying. The planes carried twice the number of people and were 80% faster than the planes that came before it. This change turned flying on a plane from luxury to the mainstream.
This was a big shift in the industry with flying becoming more accessible. The middle class could then afford to jet-set around the world, as well as the upper class. And with the increase in the number of people starting to fly, the number of jet planes sold jumped to four times the amount of planes before.
Gloves and All
With the increase of planes and the increase in people flying, costs were lower than they had ever been before. Airlines were able to play around and experiment with different fare types and the services that they offered. Before this change, flight fares were a lot more strict and structured.
Airlines could not have multiple different prices for coach class fares, with different services included. The concept of different classes and fares only came in the 1970s. The structure worked so well that it continued to the present day. It is the same concept as we have today with different prices and offers available.
Cheers to That
Look how good that food looks! That in-flight meal definitely looks different than what we’ve grown accustomed to. The service and food offered to passengers cannot be compared to the food served in economy class today. We all know the small, and often unappealing, plastic containers of food with plastic cutlery.
Here we see the food on a platter offered to the passengers with glassware and proper crockery. It is no wonder that the passengers look so happy to cheers their wine and dig into their dinner. We love the modern technology of today’s airplanes but we want this meal service to come back!
How May I Help You, Sir?
Flight attendants have strict guidelines on how they have to appear and behave. In the 60s, there were very very different kinds of rules. The application process from the 60s would not be legal today, that is for sure. Firstly, air hostesses had to be single and between the ages of 21 and 27.
And it didn’t stop there. The women also had to have a “neatly proportioned figure” and “pleasing appearance”. Everything was about looks. They even had a visit from famous makeup artist Elizabeth Arden during their training, who taught them how to apply make-up! This would never happen today.
This airplane is more similar to what we see today. The fold-away trays, limited legroom and stacked trolleys in the aisle seem pretty familiar to us. But it is still different from the modern-day plane aesthetic. Maybe it is the bright yellow or the guy smoking a cigarette in his seat that gives it away.
The introduction of lie-flat sleepers only came in the 90s. And this created the big divide in terms of flying classes. By bringing in lie-flat sleepers, economy class seats inevitably became spatially tighter. And this is the way we know it to be today. We just always pray to be upgraded for free!
A Different Kind of In-Flight Entertainment
In-flight entertainment was not always as we know it today. This is only a recent development with technology allowing for individual screens. It is hard to remember what it was like before, right? Between 1970 to around 1974, American Airlines actually had a piano lounge at the back of the 747s.
You can even see here, there is a band in the aisle of seats. Imagine being on a plane today with a live band! We definitely wouldn’t trade in our personal screens for a band. We love all of the movies and TV options. There are even games and music to keep you entertained.
Rest and Relax
Planes also used to be significantly louder than they are today. The sound was apparently something similar to a rocket launch. So we can imagine how loud it might have been during take-off and landing! Just revving up the engine took a lot longer, almost a minute to just build up the power.
It wasn’t just loud, it was also really bumpy. The brakes would usually release with a bang and slam peoples’ backs into their seats as the plane jumped forward down the runway. And we thought modern-day turbulence was bad! This sounds a lot worse than we ever could imagine.
The only thing to really do back in the day was to stare out of the window. And after that, the flight was simply boring. Being confined to a metal tube for hours is not ideal, especially when you are expected to just sit there and stare at the back of the seat in front of you for so many hours.
To keep people busy or entertained in the 50s, postcards were handed out during the flight. The postcards would usually have a picture of the plane or the meal that was served during the flight, on the front. People would write postcards detailing the journey to their loved ones waiting at home.
Cute and Colorful
Flight attendants are definitely around to take care of passengers’ comfort today but it used to be a bit different. Today the rules are more strict in general, but especially when it comes to the way people behave at work. Flight attendants were actually encouraged to flirt with male guests.
No wonder this guy looks so pleased with the service. Especially when each attendant is dressed immaculately in a cute little floral dress or uniform. The service was a lot more friendly and personal with each passenger in general. With fewer people on the plane, there was more time to spend with each person.
Will This One Do?
This image almost looks like it is an old school advert for service on airplanes. We are loving the colorful stripey window curtains and different colored headrest covers. We wish planes today had this kind of colorful aesthetic. It makes the plane look like it is out of a movie or something.
But this used to be the standard. This was the way plane interiors were designed. The designers would have had more fun and probably fewer restrictions when designing the fit-outs. Even the food tray colors match the rest of the color scheme.
Hef’s Private Ride
We all know the founder of Playboy, Hugh Hefner, and it is no surprise that he had his own private jet. He even named his customized jet, “Big Bunny.” The customized design inside was pretty revolutionary for the time and is estimated to cost him around $5 million. According to Hef, “I designed the Big Bunny jet to stand out.”
He used the jet to fly around his celebrity friends around the world to places like Europe and Africa. It is probably no surprise that he even called his flight attendants “Jet Bunnies.” They had all previously worked at Playboy clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles. They even trained at Continental Airlines’ stewardess school. Only the best for the Hef.
The clothing people wear on flights is one major difference between flying now and back in the Golden Age. Nowadays it is common practice to wear whatever is comfortable. People are often dressed in sweatshirts and track pants, for some people even jeans are a bit of a push.
In the Golden Age, people wore the finest clothing to fly. As you can see, people are dressed in suits and dresses, with heels and pearls. Most of us wouldn’t imagine wearing such formal clothing to anything aside from a wedding, but back in the day, people dressed to impress even if just to sit in a plane for hours.
When planes were first designed, the flights weren’t easily affordable and therefore were just for the more wealthy. Because of this, the planes did not need to maximize capacity for the masses. So even economy seats had plenty of legroom. Economy class seats used to be as big as we now know business class to be.
Imagine you were able to pay economy prices for business class seats and space. We would fly as much as we could if this was still the case! It sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Not only were the seats and legroom more spacious, but the seats also look a lot more comfortable!
We can all agree that the food served in the Golden Age is far superior to the food served today. Look at all of the different meat options available, both cold cut and freshly roasted. The meat was carved on the spot in front of the passengers who were ready to feast.
There were even different types of bread and cheese! It was like a big dinner party served on the plane. Sometimes prime rib or lobster was even on the menu. Ok, we could totally get around all of this. It is nothing like what is served today in the small airtight plastic dishes.
This was one of the first versions of the sleeper seats. It was essentially a narrow single bed on top of another, similar to a bunk bed. It seems like a pretty comfortable option for us. And breakfast served to you in bed is pretty good service. This family looks happy with their set up.
We don’t know how safe this was, maybe that is why it has changed to how we know it today. Today there are chairs that can recline to an almost completely horizontal position. These changes allow people to sit up for take-off and landing which is safer, and when they are eating.
Color Blocking Goals
The bold solid colors are a stand out for the period of time. We really don’t see this kind of color blocking on airplanes these days. Color blocking first became big in the 1960s across fashion and other areas of design. Clearly, the interior designer wanted to be on-trend here.
Today airports and airplanes are often just covered in greys and blues. These tones are also considered calming, which is probably useful on a plane. Pantone named “classic blue” the 2020 Color of the Year, which it describes as “instilling calm, confidence, and connection.”
Mad Men, Flight Addition
The attire may have been more formal, but the rules were a lot more relaxed in the Golden Age. Passengers were able to access areas that we cannot today. In the 80s, passengers could go and visit the cockpit during the flight. Whaaat?
Yes, and children were even given a commemorative wing pin to remember the experience in the cockpit. We can only imagine how excited the kids, and parents, would have been. We are sad that we missed out on getting to do it before all of the strict regulations came in.
Being stuck on a plane for hours can make even the quietest people more social. Without any digital distractions, talking to the person next to you or the flight attendants was the main form of entertainment. This has become a foreign concept for us as we’ve become dependent on our screens.
The friendly flight attendants were more than happy to sit and have a conversation. We are sure that flight attendants would have had some good stories and memories from their time in the air that they may have shared. Maybe it was a great place to meet new people and make new friends with everyone looking for something to fill their time.
Pose With Poise
So we can definitely see that the flight attendant uniform is pretty different to what we see today. The strict guidelines regarding appearance used to include items about weight, and the weirdest part… they weren’t allowed to be married. What?! The guidelines are crazy to us and we are really happy that that has all changed.
But we do have to admit that these outfits are pretty stylish. The cute little hat and gloves are very on-trend for the time and have a certain charm. But the pressure on these flight attendants is definitely too much. Flight attendants today still look done-up and put together but they’re still a lot more relaxed then they used to be.
As you may well remember or you have at least heard, the no-smoking signs on flights did not exist until the late 80s. So through the Golden Age, there were smoking and non-smoking sections on the flight. But let’s be honest, it is one big cabin divided by curtains so the whole place definitely reeked of smoke.
It wasn’t just cigarettes that you could smoke on flights, people smoked pipes and cigars as well. In fact, the only time that people were told not to smoke on the plane, was when it was on the ground. Airlines were afraid that smoking might ignite refueling fumes at the airport so smoking was only allowed after take-off.
Onboard Navigation Lessons
The flight crew was a lot more engaged with the passengers back in the day. Often they would walk around the cabins to see if there were any aspiring young pilots who would like to have a chat. Here you can see someone from the flight crew sitting and explaining the flight path to a young boy.
Millions of youngsters would sign up for different Junior Flyers clubs. The clubs would ask for the Young Flyers to record their travels in a logbook and have pilots fill in the flight details. We can’t imagine this happening today but at the time, flight crew members would happily oblige.
The Next Course is Served
So we know that we’ve gone over home much better the food was on planes in the Golden Age but we think we need to elaborate. Mainly because we still can’t believe the differences from what we are served today. Meals were actually served in separate courses during the Golden Age.
Just like at a formal restaurant, meals on their flights would come as a degustation. Here we can see what looks like appetizers being served. And of course, it was served with a glass of alcohol. Just like every meal should be served with a side of booze. That’s what we like to see.
It’s Always Cheese Board Time
That is one of the best cheese platters we’ve seen in a long time, and we know cheese platters. There’s like seven different types of cheeses on the platter. And a fruit platter to perfectly compliment the cheeses. If the food overall hadn’t made us jealous, then this cheese platter just did the trick.
And look at how pleased the passengers look. We can’t remember ever seeing passengers looking this pleased onboard, except maybe during landing. Maybe we can convince airlines to bring back this style of food, and definitely cheese boards.
Havin’ a Lounge
Can you believe that airplanes actually had proper lounge rooms like this? It was often the hangout spot before or after meals. People would meet other guests, have a cigarette and a happy hour beverage or even knit, like this woman. It was a space to stretch your legs outside of your chair.
We understand that they got rid of these lounges for space purposes but wouldn’t this be the best thing ever. Let’s add onboard long rooms to the list of things we want to be brought back onto planes. It looks like a great place to meet new friends or even a special friend.
The News Segment
We often think back to Pan Am when we think of flying during the Golden Era. Or even the great Pan Am scenes from the movie Catch Me If You Can. It is because it was the largest international air carrier in the United States during the time. Starting in 1927, Pan Am flew in the skies until its collapse in 1991.
Pan Am was so big it even had its own proper newspaper. We know that airlines today have their little pamphlets and magazines but it’s not the same as we saw in the Golden Era. Pan Am set the standards of flying and we will always compare airlines to the good ol’ days of Pan Am.
Hostess With the Mostess
These days, flight attendants are more of a quick request service. But in the Golden Era, flight attendants acted like they were hosting a party, and you were invited. You can see here, the attendant is waiting to greet everyone on board and help them to their seats with a glass on wine.
She looks like she is really happy to be there and welcome everyone aboard. And her cute little outfit is the cherry on top. It is definitely a little more feminine and flirtatious than what the flight attendants wear today. But it is probably a good thing that it is not a requirement to dress like this anymore.
Dinner is Served
Back in the day, flight attendants would prepare the pre-cooked in-flight meals in the tiny kitchen area. On average, flight attendants were able to prepare 24 meals in 18 minutes. We can’t say that it is a quick turn around but there also weren’t nearly as many passengers on board at the time.
Food used to be kept refrigerated by leaving it on dry ice. And then it would all be heated up in electric ovens. It probably isn’t too dissimilar from what is used today except for the dry ice refrigerator. We are sure of that! Airplanes these days are fitted out with fridges to keep everything cold.
For people in first class, it was customary to gather at the bar and lounge area before meals were served. It was a perfect time, like a happy hour, to have a drink and a cigarette. It was just like going out for pre-dinner drinks, but here it is on board an airplane instead. Same same, but different.
The lounge is actually designed rather nicely. It almost doesn’t feel too far from an actual bar with cute colored couches and little tables. And as you can see, the people are dressed for the occasion too. We still can’t wrap our heads around sitting on a plane for hours, not in sweatpants!
Well, this definitely doesn’t happen anymore. We have never seen a flight attendant keeping children on board entertained. This flight attendant has a sleeping child on her lap while she plays and jokes around with the other child. How great would this be for parents today! It’s like an onboard nanny.
And both kids couldn’t look happier! The younger one looks like he is having the world’s best nap, he is completely knocked out. And the other child is giggling away. He looks like he has been given plenty of games to keep him entertained and happy.
Smiles All Round
Firstly, we feel like we need to point out that we have never seen so many colors and patterns in one photo. Please stop and take it all in. The wallpaper, air hostess’ dresses, the drink cart and the seats. It is a lot going on and we’re vibing it all.
Secondly, everyone’s smiles say they are having a great time. We don’t know if it was purely for the photo but we like to believe that it because they are all just having a good time. The couple seems super happy with the service and the round of drinks.
Sound Proof Design
So we noticed that all of the vintage planes seem to be covered head to toe in fabrics. We thought it was just because of the 60s’ love for patterns and textures. But as it turns out, it was actually to help soundproof the super loud old engine. That makes a lot of sense and thank god for fabrics!
But the textures and soft furnishings also added to the comfort. Planes definitely look like they were more comfortable and cozy in the Golden Era. These days, planes are all made up of different plastics and metals. It is not nearly as comfortable as this lounge looks.
The seats and tray tables are almost the same as what we have today but definitely more spacious. From what we can see, there are only two people next to each other, not like we have today with three or four in a row. But the tray table hasn’t changed at all. Maybe it is time for a design upgrade.
We’re not saying that the tray table isn’t working. But we’re just saying with all of the technology upgrades and improvements, maybe it is time for another cool invention. It might just jazz up the whole experience a little. But in the meantime, we will just appreciate the cute smiling older man.
This looks a lot like a private plane to us but we’re not quite sure. So we are going to go ahead and guess that it is the most spacious business class or first-class seating that we have ever seen. The chairs are large and widely spread apart. And our favorite part, the seats rotate!
And then there is the fruit platter. We think it is fair to say that even fancy hotels often don’t provide such lush and generous food platters. But here on an airplane is a gorgeous fruit platter for all to share. We would definitely be on board with that.
Just Another Meal
Again with the food. We just can’t get enough of this food service. And we will probably never get over it, to be honest. We sure hope that the people during the Golden Era really appreciated the food and service that they had back then. Yet they were probably wishing for a faster quiet plane like we have now.
We promise we will stop with the food talk soon but we did have to mention that often food and canapes were served on real china plates. Not just normal plates, fine china plates like every grandmother has tucked away for a special occasion. And now, we eat on plastic…
In general, we know people dressed up a lot more than we do today for flights. This woman even accessorized her cute dress with a little scarf. And that’s a lot more effort than we can imagine putting in for a flight. Especially when you’re sitting all the way back in economy seats!
But it is kind of funny that this woman looks like she could almost be in an air hostess uniform. It is definitely the color combination and simplicity that gives it that vibe. Either way though, the woman is looking well dressed, refined and done up nicely.
We think it is fair to say that the service on flights was better back then. Look at this happy hour situation going on. A quaint bar cart with bottles of the best, being poured into fancy glassware. Don’t get us wrong, we do love our G&Ts in a can poured into a plastic cup. But this still looks good.
They even had the little colorful stirrers! Next time we’re on a flight we might BYO glassware because this just looks fancy and fun. We’re ready for our glass of Chardonnay or Martini with a twist. We would probably drink a whole lot more if we didn’t have a mini TV to keep us entertained.
A Social Affair
As you can see here, planes seem as though they were a lot more social than as we know them today. This might because there’s no TV sitting in front of each person keeping them distracted from hours stuck in a small space. Or maybe people were just more social back then.
We can’t really imagine talking to the stranger sitting next to us for 10 hours straight on the way to summer in Europe. Or maybe this was just a short flight and no one is too bothered yet. But this photo definitely captures a 60s’ vibe of flying so we can start to get a sense of it all.