The Golden Age of Airline Flight History – Gone Forever like Cheap Tickets?

Remember when airplanes were filled with gentlemen in suits and ties, and ladies in hats with veils – and immaculate white gloves?

Naked Passengers on Planes

I know, I know – times have changed; people will wear anything on planes these days (and occasionally, nothing at all – a couple of years back, a German travel agency was touting an “all nude” flight),

Which brings me, somewhat abruptly, to my main point: I love history – and love reading about it – maybe because I subscribe to George Santayana’s philosophy that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The Golden Years

I was thinking about the past – and the Golden Age of airline flight history recently, when I came across a new book from Thai Airways called, “Fifty Years of Golden Journey” – which I hope to add to my own library. Trivia time: did you know Thai Airways won a “best float” trophy in the 2000 Rose Parade?

And, just the other day, while visiting US Airways headquarters, I found myself staring in fascination at the airline’s extensive “wall of fame” photos and memorabilia tracing decades of air travel history (even as current history intruded, in the form of sign-waving picketers just outside the building – a wage dispute).

A lot has changed over the years (though the demonstrators remind us that, not everything changes – airlines and labor have often clashed through the years).

The Hard Landing

If you’d like to know more about the colorful history of the airlines, I highly recommend “Hard Landing” – a 1995 book by Thomas Petzinger, Jr. which is subtitled, “The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos”.

I ask everyone in my company to read this book, and if I were in charge of the world, I’d ask airline executives to look at it, too – as they run us headlong into the “Airline Fee-for-All Era”.

Legends of Flight

This will take you back (or introduce some of you) to the early age of commercial air travel; you may already know about how the exploits of Amelia Earhart and Lucky Lindy jump started commercial aviation, but did you know that flights for the first airline passengers often meant sitting on a wicker chair in the back of an overstuffed mail plane?

This book also gives a guided tour of early GDS – the computerized distribution systems for reservations called Sabre, Travelport, Amadeus and more. We’ve come a long ways from the days when you could go to the airport with no reservation, confident the airline would have a seat for you.

Wild and Crazy Airline CEOs

Read “Hard Landing” and meet the man who removed the olives from salads on his airline’s in-flight meal trays – to save on fuel. But the really fun guy is the man who promoted his fledgling airline by giving away free bottles of booze – and later on, he would sing and rap in “so-bad-they’re-good” music videos with his airline employees (I’m sure you Southwest fans know who I’m talking about).

Those people loved their companies and weren’t afraid to show it; today’s airline executives tend to be a bit more circumspect, alas – more “corporate” – and not necessarily from an aviation background at all (United Airlines V.P. Barbara Higgins, for example came to the carrier from Disney).

Twitter vs. Old Days

I am all for jumping headlong into the future of “social media” and I love my Twitter (@rickseaney, @farecomparedeal and @farecompare) – these things have such potential to change how we think and act about travel (and, yes, in case you were wondering – the future is now) – but, what do you say, every now and then, we just slow down a bit?

Slow down, and remember where we came from, so we don’t make the same mistakes again. After all, in recent years, the airline industry has lost a decade’s worth of growth as it cut capacity. I say no more hard landings. And maybe – enough with the fees?


Published: May 7, 2010