30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat

30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat

Jennifer Conerly - November 22, 2017

The history of commercial aviation is just over one hundred years old, but it is a fascinating study of the changes that were happening in the twentieth century. After the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, the idea of commercial aviation became a possibility. Within twenty years, the first commercial airlines opened for business and planes were used for transportation as well as weapons in World War I. As the decades passed, the flight experience improved and became a luxury for those who could afford to travel by plane. The decadence of air travel began to wane by the 1980s, when the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 led to a drop in ticket prices, allowing more people from all economic and social classes to afford a ticket.

By the 1930s, after many of the first commercial flight businesses that tried to make a profit from air travelers failed the decade before, airlines began to realize that they needed to make their passengers more comfortable in the flying experience to keep them flying. As the technology of aircraft developed, so did the luxury of flying. Seats were able to recline, with much legroom, and some planes even had beds. Traveling by air was a luxury that not everyone could afford, and the people who could recognized its importance. People dressed nicely for their flights, and flying was considered a social event where you talked to the people around you. Eventually, the luxuries on board flights became more and more sophisticated, with flight attendants serving drinks and full-course meals. You could also smoke on airplanes, which was a practice that continued until the end of the twentieth century.

Many photographs from the beginning of commercial air travel survive, and they give us a glimpse into how air travel has changed since its beginnings. Pictures of air travel survived since the 1920s, and they show what flight was really like during what is called the “glory days of air travel” from the 1940s to the 1970s. As tickets opened up to everyone, you can see the decline in the quality of air travel: people began to dress more comfortably and the planes became more cramped to accommodate more people, reducing the legroom and space that earlier planes were known for. The photographs are also particularly interesting because, in the passengers as well as the flight attendants, you can see the differences in the fashion trends reflected in their clothing. These photographs show the change in airplane travel as luxury increased and they detail the development of air travel as an indication of social status.

30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
The first commercial flight in the United States. Tony Jannus flew a flying boat across Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida, for Abram Pheil (left). The flight took 23 minutes. Photographed January 1, 1914. State Archives of Florida. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/commercial-flight-opens-unlimited-opportunities
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
People boarding a British European Airways Vickers Viking flight to Paris. Photographed ca. 1940-1949. British Airways. https://www.britishairways.com/en-us/information/about-ba/history-and-heritage/photographs/photos-1940-1949
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
The Flying Senators, at Bolling Field, Washington, before a flight to Langley Field, Virginia. Senator Frederick Hale of Maine and Senator Hiram Bingham (right) of Connecticut frequently used air travel to conduct government business. Senator Bingham was a pilot in World War I. Photographed by Harris & Ewing, November 27, 1927. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons.
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Weighing in. This postcard from the 1920s shows a woman weighing in before a flight. The first flights were meticulously weighed and measured so that the plane was not too heavy. George Arents Collection. The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-1896-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Unnamed steward in the cabin of an Imperial Airways Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft, ca. 1920s. In the early days of air travel, stewards were introduced to serve drinks and food on flights. Women were barred from these positions until a decade later. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/8206079.stm
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
A flight attendant serves drinks to passengers on board a flight. Photographed around 1931. Copyright Alarmy Stock Photos. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3349248/Shaking-cocktail-tucking-passengers-bed-calming-nervous-flyers-Fascinating-vintage-photos-reveal-life-sky-air-hostesses-1930-s.html#ixzz4yu7gw3VD
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Passengers pass the time on a flight. The first flights until 1940 could only fly up to 10,000 feet because the technology had not reached the ability to handle the higher altitudes and lower oxygen levels. On July 8, 1940, the first Boeing 307 Stratoliner changed this; it was able to travel 200 mph and could reach altitudes of 20,000 feet. State Library and Archives of Florida. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/commercial-flight-opens-unlimited-opportunities
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Ellen Church, the first female flight attendant, welcomes a passenger to a Boeing flight. The 1930s changed flight forever with the presence of female flight attendants. Women were previously banned from these jobs, but the operations manager of Boeing Air Transport began to hire the first women flight attendants, believing that having women on board the planes would calm the passengers. Photographed in 1930. Copyright by ullstein bild at Getty Images. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3349248/Shaking-cocktail-tucking-passengers-bed-calming-nervous-flyers-Fascinating-vintage-photos-reveal-life-sky-air-hostesses-1930-s.html#ixzz4yu8OGPZX
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
March 1937. A sleeping area on an Imperial Airways airplane. Copyright by Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=true
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
The interior of an United Airlines Boeing plane, one of the first commercial airplanes. The aisles are very narrow and there is limited seating. Photographed 1935. Copyright Alarmy Stock Photos. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3349248/Shaking-cocktail-tucking-passengers-bed-calming-nervous-flyers-Fascinating-vintage-photos-reveal-life-sky-air-hostesses-1930-s.html#ixzz4yu9IcoLf
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
A couple in a private suite of an airplane. Photographed in the 1940s. Copyright Pictorial Parade, Archive Photos, Getty Images. https://www.thedailybeast.com/vintage-photos-of-airplane-travel-and-celebrities
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Relaxing during a flight. A woman reclines back in her seat of a BOAC Boeing Stratocruiser while chatting with her fellow passengers. Unknown date, probably ca. 1940s. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2340919/Golden-age-air-travel-pictures-shots-tents-Heathrow-wasnt-glamour.html
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Flight attendant Patricia Palley serves passengers in a cabin on a transatlantic Pan-American flight. Photographed December 23, 1946. Copyright by Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=true
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Children on fold-out beds on a transatlantic flight as a flight attendant serves them breakfast in bed. Airplanes used to have seats that folded out into beds. Photographed in 1948. Copyright by Bettmann/Corbis. https://www.thedailybeast.com/vintage-photos-of-airplane-travel-and-celebrities
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Flight attendant Claire Swan in training on a BOAC mock airplane. Photographed January 19, 1950. Copyright by Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=true

30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
American singer and actor Frank Sinatra lands in London in 1956. Copyright by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis. https://www.thedailybeast.com/vintage-photos-of-airplane-travel-and-celebrities
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Rosa Parks waves as she gets off of a United Airlines flight. Photographed by Gil Baker, 1956. Library of Congress. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/rosa-parks-collection
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Interior of a giant Pan Am Boeing 707 jet. The jet has 165 seats. This flight is carrying a crew as it conducts noise flights over England. Photographed September 8, 1958. Copyright by Keystone/Getty Images.
http://www.vintag.es/2013/08/old-photographs-of-boeing-planes.html
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Actress and singer Marilyn Monroe boards a flight at Miami International Airport. Photographed by Bob East, February 21, 1962. This photograph was taken less than six months before her death on August 5, 1962. Pinterest.
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Flight attendant is serving coffee on board a Braniff International airplane. Photographed in the late 1960s. Copyright by Hulton Archive/Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=tru
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Two flight attendants serve passengers a decadent meal on a British Airways flight. Photographed in the 1960s. Pinterest.
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Economy seating on a Pam Am 747. Photographed in the 1960s. Pinterest.
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Two flight attendants serve first-class passengers with drinks and refreshments on board a Boeing 747, 1970. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images) http://www.vintag.es/2013/08/old-photographs-of-boeing-planes.html
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin plays an electric organ on board a private plane. The band used a Boeing 720B plane called the “The Starship” on their North American tour. Photographed July 30, 1973. Copyright by Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images. http://www.vintag.es/2013/08/old-photographs-of-boeing-planes.html
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
A flight attendant in the 1970s. The uniforms for flight attendants for Southwest Airlines of Texas became highly sexualized, with female flight attendants being forced to wear hot pants and leather boots. Women who applied for these jobs were specifically hired for their appearance, especially their faces and legs. Photograph by Alan Band, ca. 1972. Copyright by Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=true
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Two flight attendants carve meat for first-class passengers on a flight. Carving meat for first-class meals was a tradition until the 1980s. Copyright by British Airways/PA. http://home.bt.com/lifestyle/travel/world-travel/everything-about-flying-in-the-1980s-thats-totally-different-now-11364189733854
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Muslim passengers face Mecca for prayers while waiting for a flight at Terminal 3 of London’s Heathrow Airport. Photographed by Graham Morris, March 1977. Copyright by Graham Morris/Evening Standard/Getty Images. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/15/air-travel-1950s_n_5461411.html?slideshow=true
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
A flight attendant for Air New Zealand models the new uniform with blue polycotton blouse in the 1980s. https://www.express.co.uk/pictures/pics/2740/Air-New-Zealand-the-golden-age-of-travel-archived-photos-flight-pictures/A-flight-attendant-models-the-blue-polycotton-blouses-of-the-1980s-59361
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
People waiting to board a flight with their luggage. Photographed in the 1980s. Copyright by Joe Shlabotnlk/Flickr. https://www.skyscanner.com.au/news/8-quirks-of-flying-in-the-80s
30 Rare Photographs of Historical Air Travel Will Put You on the Edge of Your Seat
Virgin Atlantic Airways’ founder Richard Branson was involved in the campaign to end smoking on flights in the 1990s. Copyright by Virgin Atlantic/PA. http://home.bt.com/lifestyle/travel/world-travel/everything-about-flying-in-the-1980s-thats-totally-different-now-11364189733854

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