In today’s travel world, it isn’t easy to imagine a time when boarding a plane was an event steeped in sophistication and romance. Yet, there was a time when air travel was a luxurious and glamorous affair, a time fondly remembered as the golden age of air travel. These photos will transport you back to this elegant era when the world’s most iconic airlines offered opulent in-flight experiences that catered to the tastes of the elite.
As air travel has become more accessible and democratized, our memories of the elegance and allure of the golden age have faded. Let’s take a moment and allow these images to transport us back to when the sky truly seemed to be the limit.
- 1. Fly in a Castle in the Air
- 2. Airports Were Roomy and Stressfree
- 3. Enjoy a Few Hands of Cards with Your Fellow Passengers
- 4. Travel Was–Dare I Say It?–Fun
- 5. First Class in the 1960s was an Unforgettable Experience
- 6. Fly the Extremely Friendly Skys of the United “Friend Ship”
- 7. Even Flying Coach was a Treat
- 8. Hey, Let’s Pop Down to the Piano Bar!
- 9. Maybe Sometimes the “Glamour” Went a Bit Too Far
- 10. The Duty-Free Shop Came to You–on the Plane
- 11. Let Them Eat Seven-Course Meals
- 12. Air France Really Knew How to Fly to Paris
- 13. Here’s a Perk They Need to Bring Back Immediately
- 14. No Sardine Flights Here
- 15. Learn How to Fly…as a Passenger!
- 16. Hey Ladies, Let’s Get On Board That Plane
- 17. Luxury Aloft
- 18. Sky High Style
- 19. Even Your Luggage Had to Look Good
- 20. It Cost Big to Fly High
- 21. Your Pilot was a Rock Star
- 22. Being a Stewardess was the Ultimate Dream Job
- 23. Fall Asleep in New York, Wake Up in Amsterdam
- 24. The Food was … Something Else
- 25. You Can Trust Air France to Do Food Right
- You’ll Also Love
1. Fly in a Castle in the Air
It’s hard to believe that in 1950, flying on a Northwest Airlines plane was very different from what we experience today. Back then, flying was like being in a fancy hotel in the sky, with a distinct area to talk to other passengers and your own private sleeping space, similar to a train.
2. Airports Were Roomy and Stressfree
The Brussels airport was an oasis of calm in 1958 compared to the hustle and bustle we see today. People could sit back, hang out, and chat without worrying about sprinting through security lines. It was a way more laid-back vibe that made flying way more enjoyable.
We have to mention the fantastic style of this flight attendant too. Rocking a blue bowler hat with a pop of red from an accent pin, she looks so classy and stylish. I would kill for that travel bag.
3. Enjoy a Few Hands of Cards with Your Fellow Passengers
Of course, every plane had to provide you with someplace where you could hang out and chat with the other passengers and the airline crew during those long flights! What else were you supposed to do? Just sit squished in your seat for hours? That would be straight-up torture. No one would put up with that!
4. Travel Was–Dare I Say It?–Fun
Even as late as 1978, flying—especially international travel—was still elegant and thrilling. Just check out these business-class buddies enjoying a gourmet meal.
Even the family in coach isn’t squished like sardines. In fact, they’re actually enjoying their trip, and the flight attendant is speaking to them! It really was the golden age of travel.
5. First Class in the 1960s was an Unforgettable Experience
Let’s play a game and spot everything in this photo you’d never see on a plane nowadays. First, check out that couple dressed to the nines just for flying. Then there’s the guy happily puffing on his after-dinner cigarette while his wife gets her wine poured straight from the bottle.
First class in the 1960s was all about living the high life and being treated like a total VIP.
6. Fly the Extremely Friendly Skys of the United “Friend Ship”
In 1970, 747s were like the hottest new thing in the sky, and every airline wanted to add a unique twist to the plane. United turned its 747 into the “Friend Ship” (get it!) to try and make this massive jet feel homey and snug.
First-class passengers got to chill in their own swanky upstairs lounge, just a spiral staircase away. Downstairs, they had reclining seats and a stewardess ready to help with whatever they needed.
Even the folks in coach had space to stretch their legs and chat with other passengers.
7. Even Flying Coach was a Treat
To the folks in the ’70s, the new 747s seemed like flying mansions because they seemed so huge! Who could ever imagine filling a plane of that size with passengers in rows of chairs!
Even lowly coach passengers had a roomy lounge to chill with friends and grab a drink or two. And First-class passengers were living the dream with their fancy lounge where you could reserve a table for a meal with friends or hang out playing cards.
8. Hey, Let’s Pop Down to the Piano Bar!
Coach passengers in the ’70s had it pretty good. Check out this American Airlines commercial from back then, featuring a young Henry Winkler (the Fonz himself) awkwardly lighting cigarettes and playfully flirting around a piano on a 747.
That’s right, a piano bar in a 747. A piano bar in a 747 that was available to coach passengers!
Henry must have filmed this commercial before his Happy Days fame. (Flying in coach and everything) but it looks like he was still having a blast!
9. Maybe Sometimes the “Glamour” Went a Bit Too Far
In 1968, TWA tried to make business travel a little spicier by adding “foreign accent” flights. Thanks to the flight attendant’s outfit and your fancy, themed meal, you could fly from New York to California but pretend like you were in Italy or France.
Can you imagine how those poor women felt when they discovered their new gig involved serving drinks to businessmen while rocking a bathrobe and pretending it was an Italian toga? (You know, a thing Italian people wore all the time in the 1960s?)
I stumbled upon a New York Times article about this wild promotion, and it turns out those costumes were made of paper! And if you wanted to join in on the fun, you could snag your own costume for just $9.95. What a trip.
10. The Duty-Free Shop Came to You–on the Plane
Oh no, forgot to grab a souvenir for the family? Don’t sweat it! When the Duty-Free cart swings by, you can snatch a cool watch or some sweet-smelling perfume for everyone back home. Why not treat yourself to some cigarettes while you’re at it?
Fun fact: the Reddit post where I spotted this photo thought it showed the flight attendant handing out cartons of cigarettes to passengers like party favors. Things weren’t that crazy, but once you bought those smokes and that whiskey, you could puff away and sip in style on the plane.
11. Let Them Eat Seven-Course Meals
There’s no way you’re sleeping on this flight to France—they’d keep waking you up to serve another fantastic course of your elaborate gourmet meal.
Just look at that cake in this 1960 Air France ad. It’s a literal masterpiece. You’d be too busy enjoying all that deliciousness to even think about sleeping!
12. Air France Really Knew How to Fly to Paris
This Air France ad from 1960 proves that a flight to Paris was the ultimate luxury. You could sip on a cocktail, mingle at the bar with your fellow jet-setters, and enjoy a gourmet meal on your way to France.
And then, why not take a quick flight to London after your fun day in Paris. The best part? All of that, including the side trip to London, was included for one (not so very) low price!
13. Here’s a Perk They Need to Bring Back Immediately
Hey Mom, feel free to grab some shut-eye. The stewardess is totally here to play babysitter for your kiddos! I mean, it’s not like she’s got anything else on her plate, right? Just sit back, relax, and let her take care of the little ones for you.
14. No Sardine Flights Here
Ever been stuck in the middle of a five-seat row for hours on an overseas flight? If yes, you’re about to feel seriously jealous. Check out this “crowded” cabin picture. There’s no middle seat because that’s where your tray goes!
And that super stylish stewardess? She’s on a mission to make sure you’re as comfy as possible.
15. Learn How to Fly…as a Passenger!
It’s easy to forget that back in the day, air travel was an unfamiliar experience and could be a little scary—even as late as the 1960s. That’s one reason airlines added so many fun amenities – they wanted air travel to be seen as a comfortable and everyday experience.
They even offered classes in “How to Fly” to try to bring the young kids on board. You could go on a field trip to LaGuardia airport, taking an hour-long tour of the airport, followed by a full hour of flying around the city.
I remember going on a similar field trip with my Brownie troop in the early ’70s, but we didn’t get to fly in the plane. We all got wings to pin on our uniforms, though, and thought we were grown-up and sophisticated.
16. Hey Ladies, Let’s Get On Board That Plane
This American Airlines ad from 1950 gives you a glimpse into how much effort airlines put in to lure passengers. Back then, most folks flying were businessmen, so the airlines worked hard to get more women on board by promoting the experience’s luxurious and indulgent. They even highlighted how other women were flying, too, making it seem like it was just a totally normal thing to do.
17. Luxury Aloft
Air travel really was a luxury experience back in the day. This picture comes from an article describing a Pan-Am’s President Service flight from NYC to London. I can’t even imagine–private sleeping quarters, a seven-course dinner, complimentary cocktails, and yeah, why not throw in an orchid corsage from Hawaii for all the ladies while we’re at it!
18. Sky High Style
You obviously need to look your best on these extravagant voyages. This article from Town and Country magazine in June 1952 shows us some chic outfit inspiration for flying the friendly skies. Judy Coste is here rocking a fab hat and gloves paired with a matching bag and shoes. She’s topping it off with a coat that’s really just for show because you don’t need a coat for warmth when you fly in such rarified air.
These ladies knew how to dress to impress when it came to air travel.
19. Even Your Luggage Had to Look Good
It’s not enough to just dress stylishly, either. When you’re flying high in the lap of luxury, you’ve got to bring your A-game.
Check out this Samsonite ad from 1951, which pretty much tells us that if you’re not matching your luggage to your hat, you’re not doing air travel right. They’re right, of course. You can only have a stylish outfit with seriously chic matching luggage. It’s all about looking the part.
20. It Cost Big to Fly High
Maybe people dressed so elegantly on planes back in the day because air travel was actually quite expensive. Like, really expensive. For example, a round-trip economy class ticket to London in 1961 would set you back around $350, which might sound ok until you realize that in today’s dollars, that’s equivalent to over $3,500!
These days, you can snag a ticket from NYC to London in economy for less than half that price. We complain so much about how air travel isn’t as glamorous as it once was, but it’s now much more affordable to lots more people.
21. Your Pilot was a Rock Star
Pilots were the epitome of glamour and excitement, and everyone wanted to meet them. So, as soon as your flight landed, the pilot would make a point to personally greet every single passenger, thanking them for choosing to take to the skies.
22. Being a Stewardess was the Ultimate Dream Job
Back then, there was one job that any single woman looking for adventure and excitement wanted: stewardess! (No married women need apply.)
And who could blame them? This 1951 article from Cosmopolitan tells the story of Ellen Murdoch, a 27-year-old who has it all. She “travels to far places in company with the world’s notables, lives like a heiress – and never heard of a man shortage.”
It was the ultimate job for a girl who wanted to see the world and live her best life.
23. Fall Asleep in New York, Wake Up in Amsterdam
This KLM flight offered bunks to passengers traveling overseas so they could arrive at their destination rested and refreshed. After all, prior to 1960, all plane travel was first-class travel. There was no such thing as coach or tourist class. That’s right, no cramped seats or overcrowded cabins – every flight was a luxurious experience!
Sadly, you can’t book a bunk on a plane anymore due to safety regulations (can you imagine trying to sleep in an overhead bunk during turbulence?!). Still, if you’re willing to shell out approximately $60,000, you can fly in your very own private first class cabin on Air Emirates.
24. The Food was … Something Else
OK, sure, first-class food was served on fancy white china on airlines like Qantas during the 1970s. But it was still 1970s food. It’s hard to recognize anything in this picture besides the olives. Maybe we don’t need to be nostalgic about every aspect of air travel in the past.
25. You Can Trust Air France to Do Food Right
Air France, however, has always known how to deliver a top-notch dining experience, and this photo from the 1960s and 1970s proves it. Feast your eyes on that bone china plate and that beautifully presented fish course! It’s no wonder Air France is still known for their exquisite meals.
The golden age of air travel may be long gone. Still, the photos from this era continue to captivate us with their timeless elegance and luxury. From the stylish uniforms of the flight attendants to the lavish meals served on bone china, these photos offer a glimpse into a bygone era when air travel was synonymous with glamour, sophistication, and adventure.
When we look back at these fun pictures, it’s hard not to feel a sense of nostalgia for a time when the journey was just as important as the destination. Do you have any favorite memories of flying back when air travel was a luxurious and memorable experience? Let us know in the comments!