Here’s What It Was Really Like (And It’s Actually Crazy) to Fly in the 1950s

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Air travel has come a long way since the 1950s, this we know. But in the ’50s, flying was something different. It was something magical and marvelous. Air travel exploded into its Golden Age, and airplane trips weren’t just a means of getting to your vacation –– they were a vacation in themselves. Passengers dressed in their finest to fly. They lined up for group photos before boarding. Riding an airplane made them feel like a movie star because it pretty much took the salary of a movie star to do so.

But not everything was so rosy. If you took a flight in the 1950s…

1. Turbulence Could Snap Your Neck

Early commercial planes were powered with pistons, not jet engines. As a result, they were loud, vibrated fiercely, bumped like crazy in turbulence and were grounded often due to weather (things got smoother after the first commercial jet debuted in 1952). In the ’50s, pressurized airplane cabins were relatively new to the scene. And a non-stop flight? Not likely –– getting across the country could require multiple layovers.

2. You Had Insane Amounts of Legroom

Coach seats had three to six inches more legroom than they do today –– 1950s economy class looked more like business class does now. And first class was clearly about as spacious as a modern hotel room.

3. Your Flight Attendant Wore a Girdle and Had a Weight Limit

Flying was an over-the-top luxury experience, and leggy, chatty “hostesses” were part of the show. One stewardess recalls her airline’s rule that she wear high heels at all times –– only after takeoff could she switch to flatter shoes. Hair had to be short enough so as not to touch her collar. A flight attendant manual mandated that stewardesses be single, stay under 125 pounds, and maintain “high moral standards” during employment.

4. You Might Have Paid Up to 5% of Your Salary for a Ticket

In the ’50s, a flight from Chicago to Phoenix could cost $138 round-trip — that’s $1,168 when adjusted for today’s inflation. A one-way to Rome would set you back more than $3,000 in today’s dollars.

5. Lobster Counted as Airplane Food

With commercial plane travel a new market, airlines struggled to one-up each other by offering the fanciest meals. One vintage ad lists TWA’s “full meal” to be served in-flight: soup, meat, salad, vegetables and dessert. Real glassware and roast beef were typical sights.

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