(CNN) — Cocktail lounges, five course meals, caviar served from ice sculptures and an endless flow of champagne: life on board airplanes was quite different during the “golden age of travel,” the period from the 1950s to the 1970s that is fondly remembered for its glamor and luxury.
It coincided with the dawn of the jet age, ushered in by aircraft like the de Havilland Comet, the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, which were used in the 1950s for the first scheduled transatlantic services, before the introduction of the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747, in 1970. So what was it actually like to be there?
“Air travel at that time was something special,” says Graham M. Simons, an aviation historian and author. “It was luxurious. It was smooth. It was fast.
“People dressed up because of it. The staff was literally wearing haute couture uniforms. And there was much more space: seat pitch — that’s the distance between the seats on the aircraft — was probably 36 to 40 inches. Now it’s down to 28, as they cram more and more people on board.”
With passenger numbers just a fraction of what they are today and fares too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, airlines weren’t worried about installing more seats, but more amenities.
“The airlines were marketing their flights as luxurious means of transport, because in the early 1950s they were up against the cruise liners,” adds Simons.
“So there were lounge areas, and the possibility of four, five, even six course meals. Olympic Airways had gold-plated cutlery in the first class cabins.
“Some of the American airlines had fashion shows down the aisle, to help the passengers pass the time. At one stage, there was talk of putting baby grand pianos on the aircraft to provide entertainment.”
The likes of Christian Dior, Chanel and Pierre Balmain were working with Air France, Olympic Airways and Singapore Airlines respectively to design crew uniforms.
Being a flight attendant — or a stewardess, as they were called until the 1970s — was a dream job.
“Flight crews looked like rock stars when they walked through the terminal, carrying their bags, almost in slow motion,” says designer and author of the book “Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet, Keith Lovegrove.”They were very stylish, and everybody was either handsome or beautiful.”
Most passengers tried to follow suit.