The Olden Days of Air Travel Were Horridly Primitive

March 16th, 2012

By Dan Miller

We didn’t have the TSA, delicious airline meals or pleasant flight attendants.  It’s all so much better now. Don’t believe it?  Just watch these shocking videos.

Don’t laugh. That film was made only eight years before I was born so it’s not ancient history. It’s not that long ago, I tell ya.

Things have changed rapidly ever since, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. These aircraft came just a few years later.

Eventually, the Boeing 747 came along.

My wife, Jeanie, was a Pan Am flight attendant back then on the 747s. She has many stories to tell about her ’round the world flights (there were two daily, one in each direction, eight days each), flights into Viet Nam to take and bring home GIs, and just a few scares. Watching the video brought back many memories for her.  The uniform you see in the video is the one she wore when she flew with Pan Am to all of the places shown.

Just imagine having to travel today in the primitive squalor of the unlamented golden olden days!  Unpleasant flight attendants back then lacking adequate supervision and training? Uncomfortable, noisy and cramped old airplanes?  The Pan Am Boeing 747s on which Jeanie flew merely devoted the entire upper cabin to a bar! Scandalous! Accustomed to the pleasures of air travel today, no modern passenger would tolerate such meager comforts. That’s why we all so greatly enjoy air travel today. It’s a lot better and cheaper now — just like lives.

ernestgannIf you want to read about the early period, Ernest K. Gann’s Fate is the Hunter is a great place to start.  Gann (1910 – 1991), a marvelous writer, was one of the early pioneers. His story begins with the early air shows, proceeds to air mail in open-cockpit aircraft, then to the DC 2 and DC3 and finally to the first commercial jet aircraft.  His is a story well told of tremendous changes in a relatively short period.  Gann’s last FAA flight check ride was with my former flight instructor and best friend, Wade Cothran. Sadly, both are now long dead. Still history continues, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. A certified old fart, I probably don’t understand which is which or why.


The Next Wave?

Update: Might this be the next advance in aviation?

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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5 Responses to “The Olden Days of Air Travel Were Horridly Primitive”

  1. larry |

    A very informative and interesting piece. Its a shame how air travel has increased in cost. Fuel cost and labor cost have combined to put air travel out of reach for many. Isn’t it amazing how far we have come in aviation design and knowledge.

  2. Tom Carter |

    Lots of memories, most of them about a kind of air travel that was far better than it is today. But I suppose there are now so many more people flying and so many more airlines, plus all the PC rules that permeate everything, it has to be different. But I do miss the attractive stewardesses (flight attendents, meh!) — none of the cranky old veterans and drama queens we have to deal with today.

    I spent many years flying on Pan Am, to include going to Vietnam the first time on a Pan Am charter. When I heard that Pan Am was going out of business, I felt like a piece of America was disappearing.

    The old American Airways film is a hoot. Lots of little reminders of things that were bad, like “darkies loadin’ cotton.” And some that were, in my opinion, good, like “individual ash trays, as you blow smoke rings and thrill to the beauty of the vistas below.”

    Ah, well…pardon me while I blow a few smoke rings.

  3. Dan Miller |

    Tom, the airlines have become what buses once were, only more cramped and generally less comfortable, with lots of TSA and other nonsense to endure before boarding.

    I have not flown for many years — once upon a time I enjoyed commercial air travel — and have no desire ever to experience it again.

    The demise of Pan Am was disappointing but not unexpected. Jeanie, who as noted was a Pan Am flight attendant (before they were referred to as flight attendants) knew it was coming. Pan Am had become top heavy at the corporate level and hence unsupportable, unmanageable and with declining morale among the “troops.” Perhaps there is a message there for some companies, unions and, indeed, for governments today.

    Probably unrelated to the article, but Jeanie tells a heartwarming story about one of her flights back from Viet Nam. A nun boarded with multiple orphan infants to take to the United States. Unable to care for them herself, the nun distributed them among the GIs. At first, they seemed reluctant because they did not know what to do with the kids. However, well before the time came to deplane, all of them had bonded with the kids and were quite reluctant to be separated from them.

  4. Tom Carter |

    Nice story about the kids and the soldiers. There are lots of incidents like that, then and now. Too bad more people don’t hear about them.

  5. Noelia Murphy |

    Hi Dan

    I have an usual question for you. You mentioned that your wife Jeanie was on a flight from Vietnam that had a nun boarding with orphan infants to take to the United States.
    I was on a similar (I think chartered) Pan Am flight that originated from Korea to JFK in 1977. I believe the plane had about 20 babies/toddlers that were coming to the US for adoption. I don’t suppose your wife recalls any of those flights? I was looking to get some information from anyone who worked on those flights.

    Thanks so much for your time.


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