Longing for the “golden age” of air travel in the 1950s? These facts may change your mind

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – Many aspects reflect the reality of commercial air travel in the 21st century, from the long lines at security checkpoints, the small plastic cups for soft drinks, the small bags of “pretzel” cookies, the planes filled to the limit, the fees which must be paid for for every amenity.

No wonder many travelers are nostalgic about what has been referred to as the “golden age” of air travel in the United States.

During the 1950s, airlines promoted commercial air travel as a magical experience, with flight attendants serving full meals served in real china.

The 1950s and 1960s are known as the “golden age” of air travel.
Credit: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Airline seats were large (and often empty) with ample legroom, and passengers were always well-dressed.

With the introduction of jet planes in the late 1950s, passengers were able to travel to the most remote destinations at speeds unimaginable just a decade earlier.

Not many people could afford to fly at that time.
Credit: Tim Graham/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A flight from New York City to London took about 15 hours in the early 1950s, and that time dropped to less than 7 hours by the early 1960s.

Airline nostalgia can be deceptive, and the “golden ages” were rarely perfect.

Until the advent of jet aircraft in 1958, the majority of commercial aircraft in the country were powered by propellers, such as the DC-4, for example.

The DC-3 had a capacity of just 21 people.
Credit: FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Most of these planes were unpressurized, and the maximum altitude they could reach ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 feet.

These planes could not fly in bad weather, so delays and disruptions were common and frequent, and planes often needed to provide bags in case passengers became ill.

Airlines promoted commercial air travel as an enchanting experience at the time.
Credit: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Some planes were spacious and compact. The Boeing Stratocruiser, for example, carried 50 first class passengers, or 81 economy class passengers, compared to just 21 on the DC-3.

The plane was able to fly at an altitude of 32,000 feet, which allowed it to move during bad weather conditions.

A Boeing Stratocruiser from 1948.
Credit: R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

However, only 56 aircraft of this type were in service.

Although the DC-6 and DC-7 became compact, they continued to fly much lower than later aircraft.

Piston engines were also bulky, complex, and difficult to maintain, which contributed to frequent delays.

During the 1930s and 1940s, almost everyone used first class.

Airlines encouraged more people to travel in the 1950s and 1960s by offering economy and tourist fares.

Fares were less expensive than first class, but still quite expensive.

Although the advent of jet planes brought prices down, the cost was still beyond the reach of most Americans, as the business class was among the majority of those traveling at their corporate expense.

The demographics of travelers began to change during this period as more women, young adults, and retirees began to travel by air.

However, air travel remained financially out of reach for most people.

And if that period can be described as a “golden age,” it was for very few people.

People also forget that air travel in the 1960s was much more dangerous than it is today.

During the fifties and sixties of the last century, American airlines were subjected to at least 6 crashes every year, and the majority of them killed all passengers.

There have also been numerous incidents of hijackings.

One of the reasons American airline passengers today (in general) accept security checkpoints is that they want an assurance that their plane will remain safe.

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