Airline travel wasn’t always all about trying to keep your baggage costs to a minimum and tersely calling out “On your LEFT” to the guy standing in the middle of the airport’s moving sidewalk. No, once upon a time air travel was a luxury. On a flight circa 1955, your plane would have been stocked with lobster and other fancy shmancy food, enough leg room to allow for leaning back without earning a stink eye, and free alcohol (another scotch, anyone?). Meanwhile, airports themselves weren’t quite up to snuff, at least by today’s standards. A quick review of airport history reveals that the dog parks, casinos, and swimming pools now considered the terminal gold standard were nowhere to be found. This week in our National Aviation History Month series, we are recapping how aeropuertos have changed through the years, from airport security procedures to disembarking.
Airport security was pretty much nonexistent until the early 1970s. Don’t believe us? Passengers could get on board without so much as ID. That’s right, as long as an airport official could give you the once-over and think “Yeah, you look pretty sane,” you were green lit to board the aircraft. Passengers could also show up to the gate, friends and family in tow, just a few minutes before the flight. After all, no one was really scanning luggage back then, either. Thankfully, between the 70s and present day, the history of airport security also includes plenty of innovation, including baggage scanners and other safety measures.
Staying Entertained in the Terminal
Terminal entertainment has certainly evolved, as well. Airport amenities like indoor aquariums and meditation rooms didn’t start to take off until air travel became common place. In the 60s and 70s, some of the most popular amenities were coin operated TV chairs. For a quarter, passengers could watch 30 minutes of programming. And before the mid-1970s or so, most of the retailers present in airports were duty-free shops—no sprawling shopping malls like we’re used to these days. By the 80s, there were some dining options (read: day-old soft pretzels) and more shopping, the 90s saw a big explosion of amenities. These days, or course, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to amenities. Go ahead, get a massage and visit an on-site gym during your layover.
Hey, remember when people could just smoke wherever they wanted? Yeah, that was gross. Up until 1988, not only you smoke on some PLANES, but you could certainly light up in designated areas of the airport itself. By 1990, smoking on any commercial aircraft was a no-no, and many airports started banning passengers from lighting up on the premises at all. While some airports still let passengers smoke in certain indoor lounges, most airports don’t let you take a puff within 15 feet of the building.
Getting On and Off the Plane
There was no such thing as a jetway until 1961. That means (yes, even in the dead of winter) that getting on and off the aircraft mean using portable stairs leading directly to the plane’s exit door. Thanks to the advent of a jetway corridor in the early 60s, passengers can now make it directly from the airplane to the gate. This of course makes navigating from airport security to your plane seat much swifter and comfortable for your departure, and you can reach baggage claim with ease upon landing.
The next time you’re getting a mani-pedi in Terminal B, we hope you’ll appreciate the history of airports and how far we’ve come! It wasn’t that long ago that you would have been relegated to killing time by writing post cards. How passé!
Feature photo attribution: Attribution: Flickr/Creative Commons/Teresa Avellanosa/Via/https://flic.kr/p/7TRAre