Forget the air rage, lengthy security checks and cramped seats we’ve become accustomed to when flying in recent years.
Air travel in the 60s and 70s was a more leisurely and luxurious experience, according to passengers who would don their formal wear and enjoy endless leg room and service from attractive flight attendants.
But beyond its glossy image, flights of yesteryear were noisy, smelly and expensive, veteran fliers have revealed in a fascinating online forum thread.
A noisy and bumpy ride
Quora posters were quick to contradict air travel’s reputation for absolute glamour revealing that despite vintage photos depicting leisurely journeys, on board it was actually a noisy ride racked with turbulence.
Tim Hinds first travelled in the 1960s on a DC3 and explained: ‘When we took off I remember the tail would swerve back and forth until all three wheels were off the ground, it was noisy and since it wasn’t pressurised we had to stay below 10,000ft.’
He later sampled a DC6 that was pressurised so it could fly higher, but he said it was ‘noisy as hell’. Concurring, Robert Moutal recalled the noise and turbulence of planes in the golden age which ‘shook more’. Quora user Andy Kerr remembered planes always being as large as 747s when flying as a child. He explained that take off was particularly dramatic.
He said: ‘Takeoff was something akin to a rocket launch. Once you turned onto the runway, there was a full stop, and they started spooling up the engines. This took a lot longer, nearly a minute, just building up the anticipation and dread.
‘They weren’t quiet, either — they just kept getting faster and higher and louder until it was an almighty roar that shook the whole plane. The brakes released with a bang, and you slammed back into your seat as the plane leapt forward down the runway. It was awe-inspiring, and visceral, better than any roller coaster.’
Glamorous flight attendants
To be a flight attendant in the past you had to adhere to strict guidelines regarding your appearance and weight – and you couldn’t be married.
Bonnie MacBird said: ‘The stewardesses were chic young women, selected for their looks and there was a strict weight limit for their height – very sexist by today’s standards.’
Mr Hinds said a former girlfriend had to get her teeth ‘straightened’ before being offered a position with a US airline.
Mr Hinds added: ‘I especially remember flying on PSA, a San Diego-based airline. They were famous for their sexy stewardesses. They wore miniskirts and tight clothing.
‘They were very flirtatious but knew just where to draw the line so as not to get involved. When men would hit on them, they had phony business cards they would give them just to tease them and get them to back off.’
Passengers dressed up
Only the affluent could afford to fly in the early days of air travel and they would don formal attire for the occasion.
Mr Moutal explained: ‘People wore nicer clothes. It was almost like going to the theatre.’
Mr Hinds added: ‘Men wore suits and women dresses. They would sometimes bump you up to first class just to fill the seats if they thought you fitted the profile of the ideal first class passenger.’
Recalling when passengers started to take a more relaxed approach to their travel wear, Daniel Freedman shared: ‘By the 80s, [dressing up] had begun to wane. I remember that my mother was shocked and appalled to see some people on a flight to Florida wearing shorts. Scandalous!’
Cabins reeked of smoke
While smokers may have preferred the golden age where they could light up during their flight, non-smokers recall with horror the overpowering stench of nicotine.
Private pilot Colin Teubner said: ‘There was a smoking section and a non-smoking section on the plane, but the whole place reeked of smoke.
‘You’d get off and all your clothes would smell like smoke. I remember this very clearly from flying as a kid.’
Mr Moutal added: ‘It was a horrible, horrible experience because there was no escaping the smell. Having a smoking section in the plane was like having a “peeing” section in a pool.’
He divulged that he once sat in the smoking section of a 10 hour El Al flight to Tel Aviv and was asked several times to ‘lend’ his seat to passengers who wished to smoke.
Although hijackings have blighted air travel since the 30s and were scarily frequent in the 60s and 70s, by today’s standard’s security was reportedly lax.
Passengers recall not showing their ID, their families walking them to the gates and the cockpit doors being left open during the flight.
Tessa E Tea shared that her 13-year-old male cousin flew on his aunt’s return ticket once as it was cheaper than getting two one-way tickets.
She said: ‘You could use a ticket with another person’s name on it because IDs were not required.’
Several Quora posters said they didn’t have to wait in security or remove their shoes, although there was an X-ray machine to scan items.
Roy Martin said: ‘I do miss very much was how easy it was to get through an airport and onto an airplane. One could walk with one’s family right up to the gate. There was no security. Just an expectation of safety.’
One shocking memory was shared by John Dasef, who said: ‘I recall one flight where I brought a crossbow on board (with permission) because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage and the crew helpfully stowed it in a compartment for me during the flight.’
Describing the approach to safety once on board, Mr Moutal said: ‘As a kid, visiting the cockpit was an awesome experience. Yes, the cockpit door was usually open during the flight! I once got to sit in the navigator’s seat for the whole flight from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City and even stayed there for the landing.’
Many passengers praised the onboard experience. Roy Martin summarised: ‘More space. Seats were bigger. Aisles were wider. The entire atmosphere was more relaxed.’
Others described endless free drinks and a social atmosphere. Carlton Schuyler said: ’I’ve spent many a flight treating the galley as a bar, chatting with like-minded passengers and the flight attendants for the entire flight.’
However, Andy Kerr admitted that unless you rented headphones there wasn’t much by way of in-flight entertainment and that it was difficult to hear the entertainment over the engine noise, either way.
He said: ‘Most of the time, I’d just be staring out the window.’
While admitting that nostalgia may have added a layer of sentimentality to their memories of flying in the past, the online community admitted air travel was largely inaccessible and much more expensive in those days.
Mr Teubner said: ‘Flying today is about 50 per cent cheaper per mile than it was in 1979, accounting for inflation.’
And Greg Ryan recalled the beginning of no frills airlines in 1978, when he travelled with Freddie Laker Airlines from the US to Europe. He said: ‘No food. No booze. No leg room. Sardine city.
‘To purchase a ticket, you went down to the airport on the day you wanted to fly with cash and your passport. First come, first served.’