I always cringe when I hear people talking about the so-called “golden age of travel.”
You know, back then when people used to “dress up” to travel. When flight attendants in go-go boots doted on passengers with cocktails, playing cards and wings for the kids. When family members would greet you at the airport gate as soon as you got off the plane.
Well, if you remember the good, you also have to remember the bad. And there was plenty of bad flying around in the good old days. Every flight was not like the nostalgic photo you see above. Back in the day, flying was bumpy, smelly, noisy and dangerous compared to now.
So while it’s common to complain about how terrible flying is these days, the opposite is true. I think that we are currently living in the golden age of air travel.
You may or may not agree with me (let me know in the comments below), but here are six reasons why I think so:
1. No smoking. It’s still hard to believe that any airline ever allowed smoking onboard. Not only was it dangerous and unhealthy, it stunk! But nonetheless, prior to the 1990’s, airlines allowed smoking onboard. When one person smoked on a plane, everyone smoked, even though there were so-called nonsmoking sections on board. There was nothing worse for a non-smoker than getting “stuck” in the smoking section when that was the only seat available.
2. Safer, smoother flying. Back in the good old days, flying was a lot more dangerous than it is these days. According to an Expedia report, plane crashes and in-flight accidents, “were terrifyingly common in the 50’s and 60’s, with fatal accidents occurring about once every 200,000 flights. Where fatal accidents occurred around once every 200,000 flights during the 1950s, they now occur less than once every 2,000,000 flights. In fact, the worldwide safety record is now ten times better than it was back then.” Also, now that jets fly at higher altitudes and “over the weather,” than back then, there are fewer incidents of turbulence, which translates to less motion sickness and more pleasant flying.
3. Better food. Despite what you hear about the tossing of Caesar salads and the carving of standing rib roasts in airplane aisles back in the good old days, airline food has almost always been the butt of jokes. When a hot meal was part of the airfare, inflight food in economy class was tepid and tasteless, giving birth to phrases like “mystery meat.” These days passengers can choose to buy fresher, more flavorful food at the airport or onboard and everyone is eating better tasting, more healthful food inflight.
4. Lower fares. Back in the day, air travel was reserved for a small, wealthy percentage of the population. But in the last 30 years, air travel has become democratized and within the reach a much larger swath of humanity. For example, in the US, the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011. So, yes, while planes are more crowded and we are paying more fees for things that used to be free, air travel is a much better bargain than it was in the 60’s.
5. Fabulous airports. Prior to the 1980s most airports felt institutional with low ceilings, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating and office-like first class lounges. These days, airports hire celebrity architects design and build light filled spaces with expansive views, gourmet dining and posh, private lounges. Have you visited the outdoor butterfly garden at Singapore Changi Airport? Had an organic kale salad at San Francisco International? Kicked back with some champagne in United’s new business and first class lounges at London Heathrow? These are indeed the good old days when it comes to airport architecture and comfort.
6. Better technology. More comfort. Back when we were happy reading inflight magazines and watching movies on pull-down screens at the front of the cabin, who would have dreamt that we could access hundreds of movies or television shows from our seatbacks or that we’d be able to send and receive email from the sky? Business travelers used to relish the experience of sitting in a big lounge chair at the front of the plane, but few ever thought that big seats that recline into fully flat beds for sleeping would be the rule more than the exception.
So the next time you hear yourself or someone else complaining about how horrible it is to fly these days… you should ask, “Is it really so bad after all?”
Do you agree? Is flying better or worse than ever these days?
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