Web Page No 2210
11th November 2015
Top Picture: BOAC Shoulder Bag
Second Picture: The BEA West London Terminus
Third Picture: Steward service aboard Lufthansa
Taking to the Air
Flying is not what it used to be. In the 60s it was glamorous and stylish. To fly meant you had arrived, you were part of the jet set. Certainly flying was still for the privileged few, but was it that glamorous?
In the 1969 film, "Billion Dollar Brain", Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) received a telephone call on an old Bakelite black telephone. A talking computer told him to go to West London Air Terminal and pick up a package from a locker. He took a taxi to West London Air Terminal at Cromwell Road, Kensington. In the locker were a thermos flask and an air ticket to Helsinki. The West London Air Terminal, was built in 1963 and was a modern, efficient looking building. It had a departure lounge and check-in desks, but no aeroplanes ever landed or took off from there. After check-in passengers and their luggage were transported by bus to Heathrow. The terminal was used exclusively by British European Airways (BEA).
Air travel had an image of glamour and excitement in the 60s. Air travel was for the rich and famous. The phrase "Jet Set" conjures up an image of well-healed and sophisticated international travellers. Today air travel seems far from glamorous. Yet even as far back as the 'fifties flying was opening up to ordinary people as well.
The effect of this change was that by the end of the sixties the actual experience of flying was already losing some of its appeal. "Which?" magazine picked up on a few of today's favourite moans: queues, crowding, delays whilst waiting for luggage and damaged luggage. The airlines themselves have been wrestling for years with the problem of transporting increasingly large numbers of people.
In the early 'fifties there was only one class of travel: first class. Such luxuries as cocktail bars, and even beds had been provided on transatlantic flights. Fares were expensive and passengers were either very wealthy or claiming the trip on expenses. By the end of the fifties, there were four classes of travel, deluxe, first class, tourist class and economy class.
Deluxe services gave passengers the best that the airlines could offer. On the new jets, there were no flat beds or separate bars. Passengers, instead, had wide reclining seats and gourmet catering. BOAC's Monarch service was flying from London to New York with Boeing 707s in 1960. The advert stressed the Rolls Royce engines that powered the 707, confirming that BOAC was still buying British. The 707s had just replaced Comets on this route. BOAC claimed that it was the finest service in the world.
The four class arrangements did not last long. Pan American only offered first and economy on its transatlantic jet service by 707 from 1958. In the sixties economy and tourist were much the same. Most European flights offered passengers first or economy/tourist. BEA offered passengers first and tourist. Tourist class passengers were given a seat with 34" pitch. First class passengers enjoyed 42" pitch and greater seat width, together with better food and drink.
How much more was it? A flight from London to Helsinki cost £114 first class return and £80 economy by SAS in 1967 (this equates to £1277 and £896 adjusting for inflation). The same trip costs £289 economy and £820 business today. Certainly, the trip cost more in the sixties to travel in economy than it does today to travel business class, but business only offers the same legroom as economy did in the sixties. Another factor is that the price differential is much greater today. If you were able to afford the sixties' economy fare, you might think it was worth paying about 40% more for greater comfort and better food.
First class menus from the 60s were fantastic. This is from a Swissair menu, from 1966:
Imported Malossol Caviar, Melba Toast, Butter
Slices of Foie Gras de Strasbourg, Pumpernickel, Butter
Fresh, Cold Lobster Bellevue, Chef's Sauce
Glaced Asparagus Spears, Air-dried Ham, Sauce Mayonnaise
Thin Slices of Smoked Salmon, Fluffy Horseradish Sauce
New Zealand Shrimp Cocktail, Cocktail Sauce
Real Turtle Soup
Prime Filet Mignon with Truffles, Potato Balls, Artichoke Bottoms, Grilled Tomato, Salad
Veal Steaks, Swiss-Italian Style, with thin Layer of Swiss Cheese, Noodles in Butter, Braised Lettuce with Chipolata, Salad
Poached Breast of Chicken in Curry, Pilaw Rice, Buttered, early June Peas, Salad
Chops and Cotelette of Spring Lamb, Miniature Potatoes, Buttered String Beans, Salad
Roast Pheasant en Cocotte, Sauce Smitane, Mascotte Potatoes, Leaf Spinach, Salad
Swiss Speciality of Minced Veal with Button Mushrooms in Cream Sauce, Spaetzlis in Butter, Salad
Saute of Filet of English Sole with Truffles, Diced Artichokes, Olive Potatoes, Salad
Travelling economy in the sixties could vary from airline to airline. Free food for tourist and economy passengers had become common in the sixties. The seats in BOAC's VC10s had a reputation for being particularly comfortable.
One innovation from the sixties that made flying more bearable was in-flight movies. There had been experimentation with in-flight movies as early as 1925. However, TWA was the first airline to regularly show in-flight movies. Passenger experience of in-flight movies in the 60s was vastly different from today. They were only shown on popular long-haul routes. Not all airlines did them; although there was increasing pressure to do so. There could only be one movie per cabin. It was either a video, or a 16mm cine film. United offered a 16mm colour cine system and the choice of several audio channels as well.
At the end of the 60s there were two developments that promised to shape the future of air travel: jumbo jets and supersonic travel. Concorde demonstrated supersonic travel in 1969 and the airlines were primed to take up Boeing's new 747 jumbo jet. At the time it seemed that supersonic travel would soon be a part of our lives, but it was the jumbo that really set the pace for the future. The first airline to fly the Boeing 747 was Pan Am. Their first commercial flight was in January 1970.
So was air travel in the 60s more glamorous? If you were flying first class, yes. First class was more affordable in the 60s than today. There were fewer people flying in the 60s, so there was a greater chance of being next to an empty seat in economy. But with limited in-flight entertainment and no free drinks, it was hardly that much better than economy travel today. It was more a question of attitude. Flying then was exciting, today it is common place.
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News and Views:
On this day 11th November 1960-1965
On 11/11/1960 the number one single was Tell Laura I Love Her - Ricky Valance and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was No Hiding Place (AR) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was US places embargo on goods to Cuba.
On 11/11/1961 the number one single was Walkin' Back to Happiness - Helen Shapiro and the number one album was The Shadows - Shadows. The top rated TV show was Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 11/11/1962 the number one single was Telstar - The Tornadoes and the number one album was Best of Ball Barber & Bilk. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 11/11/1963 the number one single was Do You Love Me? - Brian Poole & the Tremoloes and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 11/11/1964 the number one single was Oh Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 11/11/1965 the number one single was Tears - Ken Dodd and the number one album was The Sound of Music Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.