Heavy Metal Madness: Come Fly With Me
After a year of blissfully few business trips, I've suddenly found myself in the travel mode, and have been schlepping across country nearly every week for the past few weeks. And since I'm paying for more and more of my own trips these days, I don't have the luxury of using carriers with which I have some frequent-flyer clout (though I refuse to ride on any airline that has a first name only). That means middle seats near the back of the plane, stopovers in Dallas or Chicago, and longer lines for check in. I think it's safe to say that airline travel isn't what it use to be, so I thought I'd take a graphic look back to the days when flying was a special treat, and demanded a certain style and sophistication from both passengers and crew.
The Boeing 707 Jet Stratoliner, the first U.S. jet transport. It carried 130 passengers and made an incredible amount of noise. They are all but banned from US airspace now, but you'll still find them in third-world countries and on cargo routes.
In 1946, Martin Aircraft was a leading plane producer and highlighted the comfort and speed of their propeller-driven machines.
The imagery of air travel has remained somewhat consistent throughout the century. Airlines have always liked to show off their shiny equipment, the extensive number of locations served, and their friendly, professional staff. Since 9/11 the frivolity of the past is probably gone from airline ads, and we dumped the all-attractive Stewardess thing in favor of multi-cultural, pansexual Flight Attendants. We all take air travel a little more seriously now, and it's unlikely the free-spirited, pop-icon graphics used by Braniff in the '60s would fly now.
American Airlines Stewardess College Class of 1960.
Pacific Southwest Airlines was the North/South route leader in California, thanks in part to the terrific Dunkin donuts color scheme. This is a photo saved from my first airplane ride ticket-jacket (yes, I still had it some 34 years later.)
In 1966, no one in the airline business was a hip as Braniff. Here, they show the versatility of new Stewardess outfits that quickly convert from rainwear to flight uniform.
We've been at this flying thing long enough to have witnessed it turn from a glamorous, high-style event to a painful, grueling, frustrating, and sometimes scary ordeal. It may be fitting that this is the year Airbus took over Boeing in sales-air travel is, indeed, the bus travel of the past, unless you have the good fortune or cunning to move to the head of the plane and savor the special service that money can still buy.
In 1960, Convair was still a player in the jet-liner business, and if you were really lucky, you could get one of these great hat boxes that matched the plane.
Myself, I'd say I mostly like to fly, but I'm a window-seat guy and still find myself in awe sometimes during a particularly beautiful sunset or a whimsical cloud formation. And I love it when they actually turn the plane in a noticeable bank. If I'm not mistaken, the sophistication of automated navigation systems has resulted in plane rides that feel pretty flat -- we've lost lots of the chills, for sure, but we also gave up some of the thrills.
Martin may not be in the airline business these days (they became part of Lockheed) in part because they flew their planes way too close for comfort, as seen in this 1946 ad.
The Real Images of Air Travel
I didn't always like to fly, and I've never believed anyone who said they were not terrified by the prospect of bursting into a ball of flame at 35,000 feet and plummeting to the ground while you contemplated, if only for a fraction of a second, those left behind.
But let's not dwell on those thoughts, and instead imagine a time when happy cigarette smokers sat around the piano bar in the upper level and enjoyed a few cocktails and winsome glances at the scantily clad stews. Of course it was probably never really like that, but at least in the ads it seemed as if everyone was flying to a great destination, toward something they looked forward to, and with people they love.
The Douglass DC-6 was the workhorse of the airline industry back in the early '50s.
What I've noticed in flying lately is that the majority of people fly alone, very few seem happy (unless you're on Southwest), and the loneliness of travel is only slightly offset by the automatic firing up of cell phones as soon as the plane lands and is safely taxing to the gate. Planes these days suffer from the same "elevator phenomenon" we've all experienced -- most of us would rather not acknowledge, and certainly not chat, with our seat mates or with the crew.
In 1937 Imperial Airways advertised extensively in anticipation of increased business bringing dignitaries to London for the coronation of King George V.
I think every air traveler since 9/11 has an image in mind of what it was like from the passenger seats -- how could you not? I hope you're good at getting those images out of your head. The futility of that kind of thinking will drive you crazy, and it's much better to try and find something to order from the in-seat AirMall catalog. You can never have enough ionic air cleaners or inspirational posters.
When was the last time your birthday was celebrated on board?
For some of us no matter how many times United Airlines plays "Rhapsody in Blue," or what fantastic images Madison Avenue conjures up, airlines would be better off in these uncertain times to just come clean and address what's really on our minds. When was this plane last serviced? How many years of advanced education and rigorous oversight do your mechanics go through? I don't want to see low fares, I want to see sparkling workbenches with five supervisors all holding magnifying glasses and clipboards. I want to read about the breakthroughs in non-flammable fuels, and maybe even discover that we ought to be issuing parachutes after all.
Aeroput a leading Yugoslavian airline had a style in 1935 that could easily be found on an Orbitz ad of today.
Better yet, stop spending money on advertising at all and get your act together. You're all bankrupt, billions of dollars in debt, and constantly cutting costs. I don't want a new color scheme. I want a luxury of funds for research and development into safer, more efficient aircraft, and better customer service.
A KLM luggage sticker from 1938, and an early in-flight magazine from United, courtesy of travelbrochuregraphics.com.
Overcoming Your Fears
I've learned a few things over the years about flying, and I'm sure we all think we could write the book on the guerilla tactics of travel. Mine are very simple:
- Get suicidal. This one is easy for most of us, and it's by far the best way to overcome any fears of flying you might have. My big breakthrough came on a particularly turbulent flight from DFW to Dayton, Ohio on something called a Fokker 100, which I later discovered was made by the Dutch. I love the Dutch, and going to Amsterdam is one of my favorite things to do. But last I checked, the main attraction of Holland is not compatible with precision craftsmanship and highly disciplined record keeping. But anyway, I was so depressed on that particular trip that instead of fearing my almost-certain death, I yelled (silently, of course) to my God, "Go ahead and take me you bastard. What difference does it make? They'd all be better off without me anyway." After that, I wasn't afraid to fly, because I wasn't afraid to die.
- Don't get your hopes up. Let's face it. We all know that the way the world really works is that when you least need the headache, the time delay, the stress, or the intestinal upset, the more likely it is to happen. So simply expect your bags to be lost, expect there to be long flight delays, expect surly service and screaming babies. And definitely expect everyone to jump up the minute the fasten-seat-belt sign goes off even though the doors won't open for another 15 minutes and there's absolutely nothing they can do except bash into each other as they struggle to get their oversized bags down from the overhead and pull out the handle because they're too weak to carry their bag 10 feet to the door.
- Drugs. If there is ever a place for mind-altering substances, it's while hurtling through thin air at 600 miles-per-hour in a vehicle that weighs fuel by the ton. Better to contemplate how something this big and this heavy could possible fly, while enjoying the brighter colors and better music of a hallucination. If you anticipate taking pharmaceuticals of any type, may I suggest a window seat?
Oh boy, I get to go on an airplane ride! Only top sales guys get the bosses okay for such extravagance, and if you're going in style, then fly American Airlines.
Even Grandma got in the act by 1951 when this ad for TWA ran in Colliers. The caption ran: "Grandma leads a fast life...and loves it!"
The Airline Art of the Future
It's hard to predict what turn airline advertising will take next. I've given up pretty much on the standards of the human race after a year at home watching TV, so nothing will surprise me. I doubt if we'll ever return to the days of mini-skirted stews and swank jetsetters carrying hatboxes, or fatherly pilots showing little Timmy what it's like in the cockpit. Too bad, I so prefer those images to the ones currently burned into my brain.
Pilots have always been nice guys, and we prefer them slightly mature and well-groomed, especially if they're going to tuck us in at night.
Read more by Gene Gable.