Think the ‘golden age’ of air travel is gone? Think again

You can’t smoke onboard the plane anymore. That’s the only real difference that I can see.

And if you truly pine for the days when you could light up a ciggie in 39A and blow noxious fumes all over your fellow passengers while tapping ash into a little box in your armrest – well, I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of sympathy.

For everyone else, however, the “Golden Age” of air travel still exists. You just have to pay for it.

I’ve often heard people bemoaning the loss of flight as a special experience. It used to be different, they say. Flying somewhere used to be a real event.

You would dress up for it. Everyone would. No boardies and thongs and visible tattoos. Everyone would look like they were going out for dinner, to a fancy restaurant.

You weren’t one of the masses back then, either. Flying was an exclusive experience, reserved for the top tier of society, those with a lot of money to burn. You would be treated as someone special.

On board, that feeling of exclusivity and civility remained. There was space. You could stand up and move around and talk to people. You could recline on couches. You could drink a martini and smoke a cigarette and look like an extra from the set of Mad Men.

Flying really meant something then. Even those who could afford it didn’t do it very often. The technology was still new, too – the very act of soaring through the air was something remarkable, something incredible.

I have to admit that I was never around for this golden age of air travel. You could still smoke on planes when I starting flying, as a small kid, when my family took trips to see relatives in the UK and the US (you could go up to the cockpit, too, to meet the pilots mid-flight). My dad always insisted on us dressing well for a flight.

However, we were wedged firmly into the bulbous (as opposed to pointy) end of a 747-300, sharing air with the smoking section, sharing armrests with those little ashtrays in them, craning our necks to see what movie was being shown on the big screen at the front of the cabin.

I’ve only ever seen this “golden age” in sepia-toned photographs from the ’60s and ’70s. It looks lovely. It looks amazing. It looks – I have to say – like modern-day business class.

Because that’s the thing I don’t understand. People who complain that the golden age of air travel is finished? It’s not. It still very much exists. You just turn left when you get on the aircraft instead of right.

And, you have to pay for it.

Modern-day business- and first-class cabins are just as good, and in fact I would bet far better, than anything from back in the day.

You don’t have to dress nicely for business class now, but people do. You get that feeling of exclusivity, too, when you get a separate check-in queue, when you’re sped through security and immigration, when you gain entry to a special area in departures where there’s free wine and food and a nice place to sit down and read the newspaper.

You want space on board the plane? How about a private “suite” with a door that closes, where you can lie down and watch a huge personal TV while sipping a glass of real champagne? Qatar Airways has that.

How about an open bar at the back of the plane where you can sit on a couch and nibble snacks and chat to your fellow passengers about all the money you make (or how someone else paid for this experience)? Emirates has that.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the golden age of air travel has passed. Even the cost is similar. In relative terms the cost of a business-class ticket to Europe now is about the same as a standard fare back in the day. This is exclusive. It’s not something you would do all of the time.

Those who still want to fly this way, can. The only difference is that now, those who don’t, or who could never afford to, can fly as well.

The flight experience has been democratised in the last 50 years. People who wear boardies and thongs and have visible tattoos can fly too. In fact most people, in Australia at least, can and do fly.

When you board the plane for your exclusive, golden-age experience you might notice a whole lot of them lined up waiting to get on the plane as well, where they will turn right at the door and squeeze in and put up with a few inconveniences and discomforts in order to get where they would like to go and do what they would like to do.

They can’t smoke on board either.




See also: How to get VIP treatment at the airport – without flying business class

See also: Flight turns back after economy passengers upgrade themselves to business class

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