In keeping with the retro theme for this month’s 60th anniversary of the Galaxy Magazine, I decided to do some research on the alleged Golden Age of Flying in the 1950s; and it’s safe to say after what I have found out I’m pretty thankful to be a nineties baby.


Pretty Damn Dangerous

Statistics show that in the 50’s the risk of plane crashes were significantly higher than today’s average. This was due to the fact that safety wasn’t so rigorously enforced when creating aircraft, placing more emphasis on the design rather than foreseeing passenger safety. In the 50’s, planes had lower cabin ceilings and sub-standard seat belts, which meant that even a stint of turbulence could actually snap your neck- Ouch!

Foggy weather was also an issue: due to less sophisticated flying technology the fog would interfere with the pilot’s vision, who would then declare it unsafe to land. However, this caused numerous crashes as a result.

Even more horrifying is the fact that the engines were known to drop out of the plane so regularly that they were scarcely ever recorded as accidents, as long as they could use the other engine to land the passengers safely.


Expensive and Discriminatory

Unlike the cheap (though generally uncomfortable) Ryanair flights most of us students partake in nowadays, a 1950s flight was comparatively quite expensive. In fact, it may have cost the average person a month’s hard earned wages just to take a short flight. In the 1950s it is estimated that you could expect to pay up to 40% more than you’d pay for your ticket today.

Another unpleasant side to the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of flight was the essentially outright racism. The term ‘Golden Age of Flight’ is actually only applicable to white people as they were often the only ones able to afford the flight fares. Racial discrimination, especially in the United States meant that the average white man would earn twice as much as the average African-American male, excluding him from travel.  

As if this were not bad enough, it is known that even if the average African-American could afford a ticket, it was likely he wouldn’t be allowed onto the same plane as the white travellers!


Booze and Boredom

Without the luxuries of iPad’s, smartphones, laptops, Kindles, etc, a long-haul flight in the 1950s would have been quite boring. In fact, movies on flight didn’t really feature until mid-1960s and a socket to plug in your headphones only became popular in the 80s.

So, unless you like reading or the person next to you was pretty chatty then there were only two other options available to entertain yourself: smoke and drink. In the 50s it was legal to smoke on board a flight whether it was cigarettes or cigars. So I guess, unless you were a chain smoker, then you’d probably be feeling pretty grim having to sit through an eight hour or more flight in a metal cabin full of second-hand smoke.

Similarly, people often turned to alcohol to entertain themselves, soaking up all the complimentary booze to pass the time.


The Upside

Comparatively, 1950s flying doesn’t seem too great, but there are a couple of positives. For instance, you’d get more legroom simply because people were either too scared to fly or couldn’t afford the fare. Likewise, all the service was complimentary, so drink was free.

Though safety measures may have been compromised, the design of the cabins was actually pretty stylish, often created by some of the world’s greatest designers.

However, despite this, I think I can safely say that the majority of us would rather take the good old non-discriminatory, cramped but safe EasyJet flight any day over the 1950s ‘Golden Age’ potential death trap.


Sophie Demetriades

Image: Vintage Everyday

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