This Is the Surprising Decade That Travel Experts Say Was the True Golden Age of Air Travel

Airline travel has come a very long way since the first commercial flights took off in the 1910s and 20s. Flights over the Atlantic went from 30-something hours to around seven, and now over 2.5 million passengers are boarding flights every single day in the United States alone. Huge advances have been made in the safety and convenience of flying the friendly skies, yet most modern-day travelers believe the golden age of flying is long gone — especially if you are traveling in economy.

So if there was a golden age in air travel, when was it? Many people assume the best decades of flying may have been the Mad Men days of the 50s and 60s, but others disagree. These are the surprising decades that travel experts say was the true golden age.

1. Navigating the security line was nearly effortless

Passenger Passing Through Security Check At Airport
Sadly, it’s basically a nightmare now. | monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Gone are the days of an effortless sashay through the airport security line. Instead, shoes and belts must be removed, hats must come off, and pockets are to be emptied. Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, TSA strives to run a tight ship in every airport around the country. Unfortunately, some travelers are smacked with full-on anxiety attacks from the stress of the TSA security line.

Next: A bid farewell can be a valuable thing.

2. Waving goodbye at the gate

People wait at the airport in the 90s
People could go all the way to the gate. | Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images

Remember walking all the way to the gate with your loved one to bid them farewell and a wave goodbye at the gate? Now that was the golden age of air travel, and another luxury we lost post 9/11. One airport, however, has worked to change this policy. In Pittsburgh, non-ticketed civilians can accompany loved ones all the way to the gate with a “myPITpass.” These individuals must still walk through the security line after being vetted, but the resurfacing of this amenity is well-worth it.

Next: These are the true golden age decades.

3. In the 80s and 90s, you could transfer tickets for free

Travelers boarding an airplane
It was totally free. | Comstock/iStock/Getty Images

Despite television making the 50s and 60s seem like the true golden age of air travel, the cost of tickets back then was through the roof. And transferring tickets could cost upwards of five percent of many travelers yearly salary. In the 80s and 90s, travelers could transfer their airfare tickets to another individual absolutely free of charge. As any modern traveler knows, many airlines now charge hundreds of dollars to change a flight, and transferring a ticket to another person is practically unheard of.

Next: Economy got the royal treatment in the 80s and 90s. 

4. Booze was on the house

Senior Couple on airplane in the 1990s
Forget paying for water, alcohol was free. | Comstock/iStock/Getty Images

All “budget-friendly” airlines like Spirit and Frontier charge their passengers for a cup of water on their flights. Luckily, airlines like American, United, and Delta still provide complimentary non-alcoholic beverages, but in the heyday of 80s and 90s, passengers in economy were offered free booze. To boot, the cocktails came standard with garnishes like limes and cherries. The good ole days indeed.

Next: You’ll be lucky to get a bag of pretzels or a stroopwafel. 

5. Hot meals were standard throughout economy

Flight attendant serving passenger on airplane
It was an attempt to cut costs. | Comstock/iStock/Getty Images

In the very early 2000s, airlines announced that in an effort to lower their costs, meals were being eliminated. For flights less than 1,635 miles (around 3 hours 45 minutes), passengers would need to bring their own meal or purchase it on the plane. Today, domestic economy passengers are lucky to get a stroopwafel or bag of pretzels to accompany the high cost of the ticket. Luckily, international flights still provide meal service.

Next: Plastic is the new in-flight glassware.

6. Glassware and metal cutlery were standard

Served Lunch in Aircraft
You used to get real cutlery. | Aureliy/iStock/Getty Images

While dining with glassware and metal cutlery in economy class may be a distant memory, rest-assured it did happen through the 80s and 90s. Now, airlines manage to produce a horrendous amount of disposable, one-time use plastic that ends up in landfills. In 2013 alone, plastic waste from airlines was estimated to equal about 3.15 million tonnes. Although some airlines do claim to be bolstering their recycling efforts, it is still a work in progress.

Next: Another luxury lost

7. To boot, wine was complimentary with dinner

Flight attendant helping businessman on airplane
Wine was free with dinner. | Comstock/iStock/Getty Images

Relaxing with a cocktail is one thing, but pairing a little vino with dinner is another. In the 80s and 90s, airlines were still offering complimentary wine with their complimentary dinners, making the world an even better place. But once again, those days have set sail, and a glass of wine or beer in-flight tend to cost passengers upwards of $10 a pop.

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