"Adventure in Contentment" - Vintage Air Travel Posters and Airline Nostalgia
Some will say that we live in the Golden Age of Air Travel today. There are certainly plenty of conveniences and almost limitless choices when it comes to planning your trip on any number of premium airlines. However all this easy availability of air travel comes at a price. A certain measure of glamour and romance associated with air travel has been irrevocably lost, and languishes now in the mists of time... glowing from the pages of vintage magazines or gracing old travel posters.
So let us cast a glance back at the day when flying was an event, and airlines treated it accordingly, infusing boundless style and luxury into their "Stratocruisers" and "Super Constellations". The Golden Age of Air Travel, thus defined, will fall between the 1930s and early 1960s - we will never tire of revisiting these glowing times.
(vintage TWA ad; on the right is the Douglas DC-4E, serving as a "SuperMainliner", image courtesy LIFE Magazine)
Smiling stewardesses with plenty of positive attitude? Check! -
("Fly Girl" from TWA (left) and DC-8, United Airlines (top right) - images via
We wrote about slightly mad concepts of early aviation in our article "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines". Today we revisit these glory days and admire their wild ideas, bizarre designs and sheer pluck to reach for the sky in what - quite frankly - could only be described as flimsy, unreliable constructs. A couple of decades later, and we find that aviation has become a glamour affair, capturing the imagination of millions and the hard-earned cash of those lucky few who were able to afford such luxurious travel.
Airlines Compete in Luxury and In-Flight Perks
Here is the distinctive, luxurious style of a 1930's plane interior: inside the largest, heaviest, and most powerful flying boat in the world in 1930... Dornier-X (more info)
Sure there was engine noise and slow speed to endure back then, but the Boeing 733 still captured the imagination like a "fortress in the sky", or rather, a stronghold, an island of luxury. This is United Airlines' Mainliner from 1952:
The Honolulu Clipper: the Pinnacle of the Flying Experience
Operating between San Francisco and Honolulu throughout the war, the Pan American’s Boeing 314 flying boat featured plethora of incredible amenities:
- 7 luxurious sleeping compartments for 40 lucky passengers
- a lounge, converting to 14 seat dining room
- a private "honeymoon" suite
It even had a play room for kids, complete with a babysitter...
Here is the cover of a 1937 Pan American’s Hawaiian Clipper brochure:
As you can see, there was choice - and lots of choice - when it came to luxury long-distance air travel, with multiple airlines competing for passengers and depicting their travel experience in the most glorious light possible. Soon, many smaller airlines disappeared, swallowed by bigger and (perhaps less romantically-inclined) corporations. Yet, the Golden Age of Air Travel endured till the end of the 1960s, leaving us with plenty of printed ephemera and (alas, slowly fading) memories.
Speaking of airline mergers, check out this tree, courtesy of NoLuckBoston. It lists eleven airlines that have ultimately merged to form Delta - follow from the top, or bottom:
Delta - Northwest
Delta - Western | Northwest - Republic
Delta - Northeast | Western - Pacific Northern Airlines | Northwest | Republic - Hughes Air west - Southern
Delta - Chicago & Southern Air Lines | Western | PNA | Northwest | Republic - North Central | Hughes Air West - Bonanza - Pacific Coast - West Coast | Southern
This practice of course is continuing today, as airlines struggle to maintain efficiency and relevancy in our tough economic climate.
The Thrilling Story of the Luxurious "Catalina" Air Yacht
Here is something infinitely more carefree and comfortable than the early 1900s flying machines: an air yacht from the 1950s - actually, a WW2 "Catalina" flying boat converted for luxury trips:
"The aircraft is a PBY-5A model and was bought from the US Navy by Thomas W Kendall, a retired businessman who converted it to a luxury flying yacht. In the spring of 1960 Mr Kendall took a pleasure trip around the world with his wife and children together with his secretary and her son. A photographer joined the group to cover part of the trip for Life magazine. On the 22nd March 1960 they landed at the Strait of Tirana and anchored the aircraft a short distance from the shore to spend the night there. They heard someone shouting but did not pay any attention.
In the afternoon of the following day they were attacked with machine guns and automatic firearms from a headland nearby. The children were able to swim back to the aircraft. Mr Kendal and his secretary were wounded while trying to start the Catalina but moved it about 800 metres, unfortunately it ran aground on a coral reef. The firing lasted 30 to 40 minutes and no fewer than 300 shots hit the aircraft. The fuel tanks were perforated and 4000 litres of fuel poured from the holes but miraculously the aircraft did not catch fire. The sea was only about 1.5 metres deep and all aboard managed to leave the aircraft and reach the shore.
On the beach they were captured by a group of Bedouins attached to the Saudi Arabian army, who had taken them to be Israeli commandos. They were eventually taken to Jeddah, interrogated and finally set free with the help of the American Ambassador. The Ambassador protested to the Saudi Arabian government but they refused to accept any liability for the attack and consequent loss of the aircraft." (source)
Vintage Airline Travel Posters Reflect the Glory and Radiate the "Golden Rays" of Romance
Hawaiian postcard from United Airlines in 1940 (including wonderfully cheerful hula dancer poster). "Guests to the Hawaiian Islands were greeted by the Hula, an expressive sort of Polynesian dance."
The "Western Air Express" flies over San Fransisco (left image) - buy this glorious poster here... While the Braniff Airways poster brings memories of King Kong swiping away pesky biplanes in the Manhattan skies (center image). And then, there is the ultimate luxury treatment - "Fly the Rolls Royce Way to London"! -
An overabundance of chrome! An Armstrong Whitworth "Ensign" of Imperial Airways Takes Off (left image) - buy this great poster here. The KLM Royal Dutch Airlines poster is just as beautiful to look at (center image). On the right you see the classic ad by Herbert Matter for "Winter - Luftverkehr", issued in 1935:
The "Come Fly with Me" ad from United features wonderfully smiley faces all around... and then there is the "Former Miss Butterfingers"! (the text says: "Two months ago, Sheri Woodruff couldn't even balance a cup of coffee.") -
"No Floor Show"! The ad copy says: "Next trip, come see our working girls work. It's no floor show. But it's funny how you you get to feel like a leading man." (left image). On the right are some winsome-looking graduating stewardesses:
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