When it comes to flying these days, does anyone really anticipate or enjoy the flight anymore? Are the glory days of air travel well and truly over?
When you’re crammed into cattle class with your knees in your nostrils, clutching your £5 sandwich in one hand and fending off scratchcard sellers with the other, the golden age of flying seems a distant dream.
Yet it really wasn’t all that long ago…
Cast your minds, if you can, to 1957, when the first edition of Which? magazine was published, and flying was a glamorous indulgence for the fortunate few.
Passengers breezed through the airport 30 minutes before take-off and settled into spacious seating, ready to sample fine cuisine – certainly no ‘gluten free’ single banana and sachet of salt meal served up for these passengers.
On the first transatlantic jet crossing in 1958 – a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flight – attentive cabin crew waited on around 80 passengers.
Passengers were indulged with madeira, coffee and cocktails, a ‘luncheon with superb wines’, followed by an afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream, and finally champagne and canapés.
Fast forward to today and things are a bit different… some of you will be well acquainted with the long security queues, cramped planes, sniffy staff and questionable food.
And forget free anything. Of course, we recently had the news that British Airways (BA), is swapping free food and drink on short-haul flights for paid-for M&S sandwiches, and ditching flowers from first class.
The de-frilling certainly won’t stop there. BA plans to squeeze even more seats into its short-haul planes. And as the no-frills model spreads from short-haul to long-haul travel, you can expect to start paying extra for seat selection, checked-in luggage and even food on transatlantic flights (low-cost carrier Norwegian already charges for these).
Past vs present
Now to remove the rose-tinted sunglasses. Not everything was golden in the 50s – planes were bumpy, smoky, and pretty dangerous by comparison with today. Plus there was no compensation for flight delays or cancellations.
Air travel wasn’t cheap either. Back in the 50s, tickets cost a fortune – several months wages for the average worker – and were primarily a privilege of the wealthy. Modern mass travel is at least more affordable, even if airlines have ditched the free champagne and canapés.
Flying in the 50s was also pretty boring. Passengers entertained themselves by smoking, drinking and writing postcards handed out by flight attendants. Today’s long-haul flights usually include a full package of in-flight entertainment.
What do you think? Are airlines inflicting calculated misery on us poor passengers so we end up forking out for extras that make an unpleasant experience more bearable? Or does the drastic drop in prices, coupled with safer planes and better entertainment make up for the cramped conditions and lacklustre food?