10. Commercial aviation was rare and expensive in the 1950s
The first commercial jet airliner service in the world was not an American innovation, nor was the first commercial jet airplane an American product. Britain’s DeHavilland Comet, operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) introduced the jet age for commercial travelers in May 1952. The flight carried passengers from London to Johannesburg, South Africa. It introduced a new and faster form of travel by air, and soon other airlines joined in, including Pan American World Airways, TWA, United Airlines, and many others, the American carriers operating the Boeing 707. The idea of flying in comfort and in relatively little time introduced a new term in the English language, the jet set. Initially, the term referred to those affluent enough to enjoy the luxurious new form of travel. It included celebrities and the wealthy, and also led to the creation of the paparazzi, photographers who snapped their pictures.
Commercial aviation of the 1950s presented a much different excursion than it does today. There were no security checks, no searches, no baggage inspection, except when passing through customs. Passengers simply presented their tickets and walked out the gate to their plane. Most aircraft offered more space per passenger than available today, except in business or first-class seats. Smoking was allowed on virtually all flights, as well as in the terminals. If films from the period can be believed, passengers dressed more formally, behaved more courteously, and enjoyed the amenities offered by the airline. Throughout the decade of the 1950s, commercial aviation grew steadily. Prices went down, more routes were added, and airports steadily improved and expanded. The main competitors to the airlines for long-distance travel, railroads and steamships, entered into a steep decline in passengers carried.