Old man standing in front of a plane.

Do You Remember What It Was Like to Fly Back in the Day? A Trip Down the Memory Aisle

The first commercial flight in the United States took off on January 1, 1914. Since then, countless procedures and comforts have changed with air travel. Some for the better, others not so much. Are you old enough to know what flying back in the day was like?

For the Wealthy

Woman boarding private jet.
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Flying used to be a privilege that only the wealthy could afford. And white, rich people at that.

Nowadays, travel has become more affordable and inclusive for travelers, making it a much more common form of long-distance transportation. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that 927 million people traveled on U.S. airlines pre-pandemic.

Luxury at Its Finest

Pilot on an airplane.
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Since flying used to be a mode of transportation that only the wealthy could afford, it was a luxurious experience. Seats were large and plush, legroom was plentiful, and the food was divine.

Dressing to Impress

Woman reading menu on private plane.
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No one would dream of wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt on a plane back in the day, even if they had already been invented.

Instead, passengers used to dress to the nines, complete with expensive jewelry and suits with ties.

Flying Empty

Plane engine.
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Empty-feeling flights were the norm once upon a time, with around 50% more space onboard than what modern-day travelers encounter. Middle seats were almost always empty, the rows were more spread apart, and tall travelers had few issues with legroom.

So, what changed? Up until the 1980s, there were more airline carriers in the sky relative to passenger demand. Pan Am, People Express, and Continental are all airlines that were forced to consolidate their services or stop flying altogether once fuel prices rose and the economy became shaky.

Smoking Onboard

Pilot smoking an e-cigarette in an airport.
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Up until 1988, passengers were allowed to smoke on planes. Once 1988 rolled around, a gradual change occurred to wean smokers from practicing their habit onboard. The law stated that smoking wasn’t permitted on flights under two hours.

In 1990, Congress extended the smoking ban to flights of less than six hours. But their job ended there. Delta Airlines was the first U.S. airline that took the step to ban smoking on all flights in 1995. The rest of the airline industry eventually followed.

The Trust Factor

TSA security check.
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Prior to 9/11, the U.S. didn’t have security checks for domestic flights. But in September 2001, the government swiftly implemented airport passenger security screenings.

By November 19th of the same year, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act was implemented, ending planes as an easy means to travel.

Free Checked Luggage

Old man holding a pink suitcase.
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May 2008 was a frustrating time for frequent fliers, who formerly enjoyed two free checked bags on most flights. American Airlines announced it would start charging $15 per checked bag, which seems like a steal nowadays.

The reason for American Airlines’ checked bag fee was to battle rising fuel costs, which had skyrocketed to more than 80% in the past year. As we all know, most other airlines followed suit, with Southwest Airlines being a notable exception.

Frequent Delays

Bored family at airport.
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According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), approximately 70% of modern-day flight delays and cancellations are because of the weather. But in the early flying days, weather delays were even more common.

Early planes didn’t have the engineering and technology that pilots use today. So, there was more danger in flying through bad weather than now.

Show Me the Money

Woman with $100 bills in her hand.
Photo: Depositphotos.

Nowadays, it’s common to hear travelers talk poorly about airlines. They often complain that airlines make them feel like cattle herded into tight spaces. Many airlines now charge for seat assignments, food, carry-on bags, and even water.

The goal? For the airlines to make as much profit as possible.

The New Path to Luxury

Woman smiling on an airplane.
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First Class and Business Class seats are as close as it gets to flying back in the day. But airlines know the cost of these seats exceeds the average middle-class person’s budget. That’s where frequent flier programs come into play.

Frequent flier miles allow customers to feel like they’re elite travelers. But anyone who flew years ago knows that the perks aren’t comparable.

The Secret to Never Paying an ATM Fee (It Works!)

A sign saying "No Hidden Fees."
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Many Americans are missing out on the easy trick to landing free ATM withdrawals in over 200 countries once they land in their destination. Are you one of them? Domestic travelers in the U.S. can save hundreds of dollars on ATM fees too.

Never Pay an ATM Fee Abroad Again With This Trick

8 Terrifying Plane Experiences Told by Flight Attendants

Flight attendant holding a seatbelt buckle.
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Do you have what it takes to be a flight attendant? Hear stories from brave flight attendants who candidly open up about the scariest experiences they’ve had on board.

8 Terrifying Plane Experiences Told by Flight Attendants

21 Travel Bucket List Ideas for Retirees

Older couple in a Corvette.
Photo Credit: DisobeyArt via Adobe Stock.

Stay young at heart by exploring the world with these 21 must-see destinations during retirement. Options for active and low-impact travelers.

21 Travel Bucket List Ideas for Retirees

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

Man sleeping on a plane.
Photo Credit: Marharyta_Hanhalo via Depositphotos.

Even the best sleepers can have trouble falling asleep on planes. Learn tricks from frequent travelers to help you catch some z’s during your next flight. 

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

30 Most Dangerous American Cities Revealed

Man holding gun in his back pocket in a city.
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Do you live in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States? Some of the cities that qualify for this title may shock you.

30 Most Dangerous American Cities Revealed

This article was produced and syndicated by A Piece of Travel.

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