Why the Good Old Days of Air Travel were So Bad

Do you look back with nostalgia on the good old days of flying? I’ve got news for you: It wasn’t that good.

Why the Good Old Days were Good

Sure, people wore suits and dresses, hats and gloves – in contrast to the young man who allegedly argued he should be allowed to board a Southwest flight in a T-shirt which prominently displayed the F-word (he lost).

Sure, fees were unheard of – in contrast to today when some airlines charge for everything from carry-on bags to a drink of water.

Sure, flight attendants were girdled and youthful – compared to the men and women in the cabins today who seem to care more about safety than anything else.

Sure, planes were spacious – unlike today’s sardine cans, you could actually stretch out in the empty seats around you. But that was before deregulation (1978), when ticket prices were still regulated by the government so airlines didn’t have to fill all their seats. Which brings us to the reason flying is better today.

Why the Good Old Days were Bad

Flying used to be wonderful for some but that was the problem. In the good old days, only the rich could afford to fly.

Here’s an example (from an vintage American ad found in a New York City newspaper):

  • 1954: New York to Los Angeles, $99

Sounds like a terrific deal, but it isn’t. The $99 fare does not include taxes, it’s only good one-way and it’s in 1954 dollars. Here’s what it would cost today:

  • 1954 fare in 2015 dollars: $99 one-way ($198 round-trip) equals $1,727 round-trip

This, however, is what we actually pay today:

  • 2015: New York to Los Angeles, $305

Yes, we’ve sacrificed a lot for cheaper fares including free meals and free bags but for most of us, air travel used to be a once or twice-in-a-lifetime experience. Thankfully that’s no longer the case because when it comes to long-distance journeys, it’s still the fastest and safest way to travel.

Read more in Rick Seaney’s latest ABCNews column. See all his columns here.


Published: April 20, 2015