The 1950s and ’60s were known as the days of civilized air travel across the North Atlantic. However, at first, there was more ordeal than glamour. The 20-hour flight in a vibrating unpressurized DC 4 with two refueling stops was enough to keep passengers sailing on the ocean liners. They found staggering round a transatlantic liner in a dinner jacket with a martini was a rational, more reasonable alternative, to shuffling across a cold windswept tarmac to barrack-like terminals in the middle of the night for the mandated refueling pit stops.
All of that changed in the late 1940s with the arrival of the Boeing Stratocruiser and Lockheed Constellation. They provided passengers with speed, comfort, full-size beds, gourmet meals, and a pressurized cabin. In 1960 Pan Am and TWA introduced the jet-propelled Boeing 707 and the glamour kicked up a notch.
To those left on the ground the lucky people who flew experienced a world inhabited by attractive hostesses and the “jet Set’ a new leisure class of celebrities, international playboys, models, celebrities, and carefree college students flying to exotic destinations. Jet air travel became part of pop culture. The romantic lyrics in Frank Sinatra’s hit song “Let’s fly away” evoked a desire to escape the nine to five routine and join the party in the sky.
Today you can still buy luxury in the air but the glamour is gone. It left when competition for the lowest fare gave us no-frills economizing, knee numbing seating, air rage, crowded airport, security lines, and. Today flying has all the glamour of taking a bus.
The following pages take you back to a time when there was glamor in air travel and joy in the journey.
The story of the planes that changed how we fly
TRUE STORIES FROM THE GOLDEN DAYS OF AIR TRAVEL.
The first stop.
Foreign correspondent Eric Margolis recalls his early flights on the Boeing Stratocruiser, a ‘sexy’ Lockheed Connie, and the ‘miracle in sheet metal, a Boeing 707.
On June 18, 1946, a Pan Am Lockheed Constellation took off from New York bound for Paris. Shortly after takeoff one of the four engines caught fire. The flames severed the engine’s connection to the wing and it dropped off entirely taking the fire with it. The plane was still over land and the captain made a quick emergency landing in a Connecticut farmer’s field. Both plane and passengers survived the ordeal to the surprise of rescuers who were prepared for the worst.
Instead, they discovered passengers recovering from the ordeal sitting on blue Pan Am Blankets, scattered pillows, with sandwiches cake tea and coffee. Nothing was going to interrupt that flawless Pan Am cabins service, not even a brush with death.