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The Ultimate Throwback – What Air Travel Used to Be Like

How times have changed! Remember when flying away on your jollies was a totally different experience? The good old days, when Wi-Fi on planes didn’t exist and your loved ones were allowed to wave you off on the tarmac, never mind at the gate.

You’d make friends with the passenger next to you, instead of being glued to the latest gadget. And the captain would always make a special appearance.

We want to take you on the ultimate throwback with some of our favourite travel pastimes you may have forgotten about.

Smoking was allowed


By the end of the 1990s smoking was officially band in the UK onboard planes. But who can forget when your aircraft had non-smoking and smoking areas. Not that it mattered, because regardless of where you sat you were surrounded by a cloud of tobacco.

But once upon a time it was classed as the norm, passengers would enjoy a cigarette with their glass of wine and laugh about their day-to-day events.

Although smoking has been banned for well over 20 years, you’ll still notice a cheeky ashtray in the toilets – a legal requirement, just in case.

Everyone watched the same in-flight film

Laptops and iPads, what were they?

Instead of screens on the back of seats and devices all around you, a small screen would drop from the ceiling and the full plane would watch the same film. You’d have to pay for your headphones and your neck might have gained a kink or two, but in-flight entertainment was a real privilege back in the day.

You could take a look around the cockpit

Who remembers the sheer excitement, as a kid, when the captain would invite you to take a look around the cockpit?

You felt like a pilot yourself, sitting in his seat and wearing his hat, making that long journey all the more exciting – especially as journeys would take a matter of days, never mind hours.

When transatlantic flights first started, a flight from the United States to the UK would take around 72 hours.

You could arrive at the airport minutes before your flight

These days you’re running around in a rush to make it to the airport at least three hours before, but that wasn’t the case over 30 years ago.

Back then, you could casually stroll onto the plane 30 minutes before take-off, and no one would bat an eyelid. That includes checking in, passing through security and boarding.

Luggage didn’t cost a thing

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You could fill your suitcase to the brim, or take a few extra bags, and the airline wouldn’t charge you any extra. Not to mention there were no restrictions for hand luggage back then, so your toiletries would go through with no problem.

According to data found from the IdeaWorksCompany back in 2016, $40.5 billion was made in ancillary fees, which included onboard food and services, as well as baggage charges. It’s safe to say you’ll never be able to pack your whole wardrobe on a plane for next to nothing.

Loved ones could wave you off and greet you from the gate

As with many great films in the 90s, you’ll find some soppy romantic scene, where someone rushes through to the airport gate to express their love.

In the past, your family and friends would stay with you up until you boarded, and they’d be there upon your return. Nowadays, you have to say your hellos and goodbyes at arrivals. No more cheesy movie goodbye scenes with the plane disappearing into the distance.

Everywhere felt like first-class

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We’re talking about roomy seats, some even with beds, fresh cuisine and an endless flow of drinks. You’d be served things like lobster, steaks or a full buffet spread of tasty food – some aircrafts even had dining tables onboard!

It was seen as a luxury to fly back then, so you got what you paid for. That elegant 5* treatment wasn’t hard to come by and you were extremely comfortable with that additional three to six inches between the seats. Think of a train layout rather than the bus-like interiors of commercial planes today.

Baggage claim was hard work

You think waiting for you baggage is hard work now? Well count yourself lucky, holidaymakers would have to wait for a ‘skycap’ to organise all the bags, line them up, and then you would point out your suitcase. But not without paying a tip first.

Postcards were given onboard

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It was a well-known tradition to fill in your postcard on board, documenting your travel experience, writing to your loved ones about your flight, and taking photos. You were handed this as you boarded, a much loved extra for many flyers.

Free drinks

Did someone say free alcohol? That’s because flying meant no alcohol limits, allowing passengers to drink as much as they wanted.

There was no such thing as mini-bottles of alcohol, instead there would be large bottles of drinks like champagne and vodka, flowing throughout the cabin. And an air hostess would be on hand to top your glass up.

It wasn’t uncommon to be completely drunk when you arrived at your destination – a vast difference to the strict alcohol limits you’ll find today.

It was pricey

As it was a luxury to fly, you’d find ticket prices to be a lot more expensive, around 40% more than a ticket today.

The average person in the 1950s would pay roughly 5% of his or her yearly salary in order to go on holiday. Granted the food was made by chefs and the drinks were free, but it also took double the time to get to your destination.

The good old times were great, but with the impressive Dreamliner ready to take you on the holiday of a lifetime, how could you possibly refuse?