Airline travel has changed considerably since the halcyon days of ‘60s jet-setting. If you were traveling in the era of Mad Men with Don Draper at your side, the experience would be better in many ways, and considerably worse in others.
Accommodations, then and now
In the ‘60s, you’d settle into a comfortable seat in a brand new luxury airliner next to a glib and dapper gentleman with impeccable manners, while a glamorous stewardess attended your every need with a smile.
Today we’re packed like sardines, often into exactly the same aging airliner. Many of the planes and jets built in the ‘60s are still flying today. They don’t seem quite as luxurious as they did back then. When they designed these aircraft, 35% of the American public wasn’t obese, probably because McDonalds was still a little shy of the 1 billion burgers sold mark. We have become wider, but the seat size hasn’t changed.
Carry-on bags really weren’t that common back in the ‘60s. Most people checked baggage – it was a free service, so why not? Today, between horror stories of lost luggage and a fee for nearly every bag checked, most people travel with carry-on bags. The overhead bins are stuffed to the point of exploding, and purses, briefcases, laptops, and baby bags are stuffed under the seat where feet would normally rest, further limiting personal space.
The Glam is Gone
In Don Draper’s day, being a stewardess was an exciting, glamorous job for a girl with extremely limited options. Jobs for women included secretary, teacher, waitress, librarian…dull, tedious jobs with only one way to change your station in life: get married. But a stewardess! She was young, chic, well-spoken, and dressed in fashionable career girl clothes – including stiletto heels or swinging knee-high boots. Stews got respect. Every man wanted to bag a stewardess like Don Draper did, and every woman hated stewardesses for their allure while secretly wanting to be just like them. Stewardesses were the original runway models, and runway models at the time were the frumpy daughters of society women. (Until Twiggy hit the runway and everything changed.)
The ‘60s were a time of transition, though, and the shining ideal of the stewardess was just beginning to show a little tarnish. It wouldn’t be long before the regulations would relax and older women – and even men – made appearances in the aisles. When the airline uniforms changed to workable polyester and sensible shoes, the glamour aspect of being a stewardess was gone for good.
One positive change is the smoking policy. I have always wondered who thought up the smoking and non-smoking sections in an airplane that allowed Don Draper and his ilk to light one after the other in a closed circulatory system? Where we so gullible then, or was the cigarette lobby just that powerful? Banning cigarette smoking on planes is one of the most sensible decisions ever made.
Drinking is another indulgence that has undergone significant change on the airlines. Those tiny bottles of alcohol are still around, but you can only get a couple. The stewardesses—excuse me, flight attendants—won’t let you get snockered on the plane anymore. (Unless maybe you’re Jack Shephard on LOST.) Bad behavior has become so rampant that alcohol consumption is limited. That’s also why the flight crews have those plastic bag ties to strap unruly passengers in their seats now. Sorry, sir, the customer is NOT always right. Now sit down and shut up. Maybe 50 years from now, they’ll add “or we will toss you off the plane.” For now, they have to be content with radioing ahead for security to arrest airborne troublemakers.
Food on airlines used to be much better. Flights were longer, since they were more likely to go to the intended destination and not to a hub two hours in the wrong direction, and a full meal was commonly served on any flight lasting over two hours. In 1987, an executive at American Airlines figured out they could save a ton of money by eliminating one olive from the salads served in first class. Eventually, the airlines eliminated the salad itself. Then the meal. Now you’re lucky to get a tiny bag of peanuts.
Don Draper wouldn’t have had to deal with security in the ‘60s, either. You had to be at the airport with enough time to stand in line at the counter—no online check-in—but an hour was usually more than sufficient. No metal detectors, no removing shoes or displaying your fat rolls to snickering guards via gigantic X-ray specs, and no people pawing through the undies in your suitcase before, during, and after your flight. If Homeland Security had been introduced in the ‘60s, Bob Dylan would have written a song bemoaning the loss of individual privacy and pleading for common sense.
Boarding and Disembarking
Getting on and off the plane has certainly changed. When the Beatles first set foot on American soil back in Don Draper’s day, they were greeted by screaming hordes of teenage girls lining the tarmac. Planes disembarked outside, and exiting or entering the plane meant navigating rolling stairways and walking to or from the terminal.
Flying with Don Draper would have been different in so many ways from traveling today. More services were offered at no extra charge, people looked and behaved differently, and security was almost non-existent because there was little reason. The number one goal of the cabin crew was passenger comfort. But at least today, smokers won’t be lighting up in the smoking section, polluting my air. There’s that.