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When Flying Was Fun


After being cooped up inside the airplane for thirty minutes, a cabin filled with passengers learned we would not be taking off.

“We can’t seem to locate the pilot,” the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker.

Everyone groaned.

“We’re doing our best to remedy the situation. In the meantime, sit tight.”

Sit tight.

Is there really any other way to sit on an airplane these days?

Can you tell this guy is in my space?
Can you tell this guy is in my space?

The man next to me had claimed the armrest and, as he began to snore, his legs relaxed into a wide stance, his knees encroaching into my tight space.

I thought about the Good Ole Days.

Before we had to take off our shoes. Before we had to be patted down and swabbed. Before we had to be x-rayed and scanned and probed.

Once upon a time, people loved to travel by air. Folks even dressed up to look nice in the airport because air travel was for the elite. Cheerful clerks gave us our boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them gently on the conveyer belt. So long as our suitcases didn’t weigh over eleventy-seven tons, we were allowed to check two bags through without any additional charges.

(It’s true.)

In the good ole days, security was minimal. A man could carry a whole case of rubbing alcohol onto the plane if he wanted; no one would have thought a thing about it. No one had to remove his shoes or belts or jacket. We did not have to be x-rayed or scanned or swabbed or probed. Our gels and liquids did not have to be segregated into quart-sized baggies.

Click to see other uniforms from the past!

Once upon a time, air travel was sexy. Flight attendants were women. We called them stewardesses. They liked their jobs and seemed interested in passengers’ comfort.

In the 1970s, stewardesses had names like Kimberly, Debbie, Julie and Susie. They wore starched uniforms and easy smiles. Tall and tan and leggy, stewardesses looked like life-sized Barbie Dolls.

Appearing quickly at the touch of a button, stewardesses wore starched uniforms and easy smiles, prepared to offer an extra blanket.

But back then, everyone had blankets. And pillows. And if you got on the plane early enough, there were even magazines to borrow. Good ones.

(It’s true.)

People rarely needed anything. After all, our bags had been checked and were out of the way, so we read books or napped. No one walked around admonishing passengers to turn off their electric devices because those things hadn’t been invented yet.

Once passengers buckled up, they started to think about the meal they were going to receive because for a time, every major airline served 4-course meals. And these meals were gourmet.

(It’s true.)

The Transportation Library archival collections at Northwestern University lists scores of old airline menus. United Airlines’ coach class meals included salads, desserts, sandwiches and beverages, with menu items such as “Broiled Tenderloin Tips a la Deutsch” (1973, Chicago – San Francisco) and Continental boasted ” Breast of Chicken Vodkaliano” (1979, Washington to Denver).

My husband remembers United Airline’s Sunshine Flight that departed daily from Rochester, New York to Florida in the 1970s. “Everyone got crab legs and a slice of key-lime pie,” he says with a faraway look in his eye.

I remember airline meals coming on silver trays with cloth napkins and real cutlery. Everyone was given knives. And no one worried about getting stabbed.

On my recent trip to Florida, I felt fortunate to have received my tiny pouch of pretzels and half can of soda.

While we waited for the pilot to be located, the woman on my right read over my shoulder as as I typed my words. “I see you’re writing about the way air travel used to be.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles. “There used to be a lot more legroom.”

She’s right.

Once upon a time, there was more legroom.

And more space between seats, too.

And they never misplaced the pilots.

What do you remember about flying in the Good Old Days?

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252 thoughts on “When Flying Was Fun

  1. I remember the little wings they’d give the kids. It’s surely not as hospitable these days, but several years ago when we flew to England, my then 3yo son was given an ice cream sundae by a flight attendant as a surprise because it was an overnight flight and he was still awake at 2am. I thought that was so sweet!

  2. I remember security allowing your family members through even if they weren’t flying, so you could properly say goodbye. That, and just walking through the detectors (with your shoes on!).

  3. This story isn’t about how wonderful flying used to be….but rather how fun it often was! I was on a Southwest Air flight back to college in the ’80’s. As we were taxiing away from the terminal and the male flight attendant was giving us the usual instructions, he went on to say, “And, we have a special guest on board with us today! The star of stage and screen, “Star Trek’s” Leonard Nimoy!” We all began clapping and craning our necks around to see where Spock was sitting. I didn’t see him but kept looking, until the flight attendant said, “And, I’m happy to announce: April Fool’s!” It was, of course, April the 1st. We all laughed and nudged each other, and smiled pretty much the rest of the entire (short) flight. I haven’t seen such good-natured fun in the air since then!


  4. Hilarious!!
    I never flew in ‘the good old days’, I’m a little young, however I used to work for an airline and I travel all the time so have experienced hundreds of flights and a bunch of airlines. If only air travel could still be like what you describe from the 1970’s I would fly even more!!

  5. Hhahhaha, I am very impressed. It’s different feeling after reading such a useful information written in a “light” way. Nice one!

  6. Love this post! The only bad thing I remember about flying in the 70s is the smoking – it didn’t matter that there was a no smoking section, it was smokey everywhere, and that was rough for a nonsmoker, especially on SF to Europe trips. But EVERYTHING else was so much better, as you say!!

  7. I have a set of Air New Zealand cutlery in my cupboard from my Mum who borrowed them on a permanent basis when she flew to Texas when she was 18. They are just a bit smaller so are perfect for little hands.

  8. I LOVE this entry! I just watched a PanAm documentary about the company, and what travel and accommodations were like in the 70’s. Definitely a far cry from what it is now! You’ve got a new follower in me, looking forward to reading the rest.

    1. Hi David! Thanks for the follow. Be patient with me. It’s summer so I’m being kind of relaxed about content. I’ve actually got a contest going right now where people (mainly bloggers) have been sending me fabulous handwritten letters to send to my son who is at at summer camp for 7 weeks this year — and I’m posting them here. Eventually there will be a winner. I’m developing new content for September, so sit tight. It’s nice to meet you.

  9. I remember my Grandfather flying south from NY with his suitcase clinging together to hold 80lbs of frozen meats and sausages from his favorite deli for his winter in Florida. It was so…normal for me. Flying has lost all the comfort and certainly doesn’t leave too much legroom or otherwise for the comforts of home.

  10. Thanks for the post. Every time I fly now I actually expect a delay or hassle of some sort. I must say, though, a couple years ago I flew on Alitalia and it was a completely different experience than flying on a US airline. I think in air travel, as in other areas, we’ve fallen behind the rest of the world. Cheers!

  11. […] Remember when planes were fun? People dressed up to travel and the food was elegant. Renee Schuls-Jacobson reminisces When Flying Was Fun. […]

  12. Renée! Hellooooo! I can’t believe you have responded to all of these amazing comments. You are truly becoming a Blogging Goddess … and no wonder … your posts and responses are THE best and you deserve to have a gigunda following! I better make a trip around the lake to take you for lunch soon before I have to get in line behind all your other fans!
    Now I forget what I am commenting on… oh yeah … flying. Right you are about the good old days. Flying was something special! Today not so much. Having said that, I looooove heading to the airport! I don’t care what I have to put up with, before or during the flight, because I know I’m going somewhere special. I would stand the entire way if need be!

  13. I had not flown since the September 11th attacks. Not out of fear, but because I had no reason to fly. In fact, I had only flown a few times in my life, probably less than ten. But in spring of 2011 I needed to get from Las Vegas to Los Angeles quick, so I booked a flight. This was when the body-scanning technology was being debated and the TSA had put a moratorium on using it and any other extreme screening measures. It was just like pre-9/11 flying. I just walked through the metal detector and straight on to the plane. We got there in 30 minutes without incident. The only difference that I noticed between now and then was that I was able to watch the Simpsons this time. I haven’t flown since.

  14. It’s not so bad. Some of us happen to enjoy a little probing now and then.

    1. Oh, let’s be clear: I’m all for probing. If you hang around my place long enough, you’ll see what I mean. But when I’m getting ready to take a flight, less is more. 😉 Thanks for dropping by my place when I was FP’d. 😉

  15. Yep. Unfortunately, these good old days are gone. Do you really have to pass an x-ray, as part of the security check? Do they x-ray your body or just the luggage? Isn’t that harmful for your health? What if you travel frequently? Do they take copies of your fingertips? I am asking these silly questions, because here in Europe, security control is not so strict, but its getting “better and better” with every passing year…

    1. Hi GG: Here in the US, we generally walk through different types of scanners that has been declared safe. But who really knows? And yes, the old x-ray machines were banned banned as a result of the cumulative risk to frequent flyers. Currently, we are not fingerprinted; however, we are required to provided documentation for all passengers — including children. I think that is standard practice in the West these days.

      I remember walking right up to a gate with my friends, sitting around and chit-chatting until it was time to hop on the plane. No questions asked. The only thing that anyone ever wanted was my money and my boarding pass. 9/11 changed things forever, that’s for sure.

      1. Quite sad. But thank you very much for the clarifications! We were curious to know. Foreigners travelling to the US are fingerprinted, though. ” 9/11 changed things forever” – so true. Under the disguise of “ensuring our safety” we lose more and more of our civil rights everyday. This, actually, is the main “damage” of terrorism, cause it affects EVERYBODY. Not that we underestimate ot neglect the tragedy of the real victims, of course. Thank you very much for the reply!

  16. Past – is life without scum. There were a few, but most were tolerable.
    General info. and opinion: Cabin pressure does not stay at the ground level you took off at. Please eat and drink sparingly and only on ascent or not at all. So someone told you “I got sick from recirculated airplane air” — they leak like a ___! Try this thought: as you return to higher pressure ground level air, you’ve been drinking sweet soda, maybe a bagel, starchy, normal bacteria everywhere in your system. Aahh, wait, remember your ears popped some on ascent. Now you are returning to earth. That “goop” gets pushed into your inner ear. Vacation ruined– inner ear infection in Hawaii.

  17. Yes I remember the good old days, I remember as a child flying to America from UK and been given a plastic model of the aircraft and a look around the cockpit!

    Once back in the 1980’s they had mixed up our booking and my Father got to sit behind pilot all the way to Greece, he said it was the best flight he had ever been on in his life! Can you imagine that happening now? It would make the news papers and the staff would of been sacked! And get this! He even smoked his pipe in the cockpit and no one died!

    In fact everyone was smoking and there wasn’t any air rage. The oxygen in the cabin was fresher I’m sure because they didn’t recycle the living day lights out of it like they do today!

    Free bar on long haul and no one roled around binge drinking and everyone clapped when we landed! They were the days! Never to be seen again! RIP fun air travel… Gone but never forgotten.

  18. Oh my gosh. Everything about air travel used to be better. We used to be treated like valued passengers. Now I feel more like an inconvenience who’s trying to make the flight attendants’ lives easier by not moving a muscle.

    And didn’t the bathrooms used to be bigger???

  19. Better the pilot than the hydraulic fluid. Sunday we returned to the departure gate because it was registered as low in one of the three systems.

  20. Ha ha great read funny true and a

  21. I’m from a more recent generation and have only seen comfort in the movies. To be honest, watching the way it used to be is a bit like watching Cinderella- fantastic, magical, and unreal- also classy. With the mention of flying being “sexy”, I wonder what can fit its place nowadays. “Higher end” celebrity jets? Chauffeurs in cars? Black tie events? I wonder…

  22. My mom was a life-sized barbie doll – with huge bee-hive clip on hair (60’s) ~ she couldn’t be married, so when she met (on a flight) and married my dad, she had to quit….. that made me smile and thin of that ….lol

  23. Yes indeed it is a little sad. Maybe with all that new technology they’re rolling out now we can hope for a big turn around in the comfort levels and customs protocols. I’m sure with a little more thought and some new ideas from the airlines we could find air travel more enjoyable again!

  24. I used to love to fly, but now choose not to for many of the issues you mentioned. The biggest reason for me is that I don’t feel any safer flying today then I did before 9/11, just feel violated and then add the delays and all the other BS, no thanks. I’ll drive.

  25. You could also smoke! Im glad they left that one to history.

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