A Brief History of Low Cost Air Travel and Cheap Flights
From the 1950s onwards air travel became increasingly glamorous. Being a pilot or an air hostess was cool and everyone wanted to fly but few could afford it.
A job where you could be paid to jet around the globe was therefore the envy of all.
Popular belief had it, in those far off days, that the cabin crew spent most of the flight smiling amiably at the passengers and occasionally providing a nice drink or a tray of delicious food.
Because few people flew and planes were small, the staff/passenger ratios were relatively low.
Little did the crew know then that the future would bring budget airlines with low fares, packed aircraft and staff worked off their feet!
Shirley Flight - Air Hostess!
The legend of the Air hostess was encapsulated in a series of novels published in the UK in the 1960s by Judith Dale and Trudi Arlen.
Each novel is set in a different part of the world enabling the heroine, Shirley to experience a series of exciting but by the standards of today, very innocent adventures.
The Air Hostess had become figure of fantasy. For women she was a role model. It was the secret dream of every schoolgirl to run away from home and travel the world.
For men the hostess was an icon of female perfection; glamourous, well travelled yet ready to serve.
Girl in a Jet Engine
Airlines were all about glamour and new technology. The hostess provided the glamour and jet engines were a modern innovation for passenger planes so publicity shots often combined the two.
Hence the cliché shot of the hostess inside a jet engine. Interesting that you don't see publicity shots of hostesses hanging on to the propellors of earlier planes.
Around thw 1960s Airlines began to move from a traditional cosy image to something more cutting edge. Hostesses changed from smart suits into clothing more reminisent of a Bond Movie. Flying became more edgy and exciting.
"Shaken not stirred, Mr Bond?"
In the Swinging Sixties the whole thing became more extreme. Airlines embraced pop culture and dressed the 'trolley dollys' in miniskirts and trendy hats more at home in Carnaby Street than an aircraft.
But the airlines still loved the iconic 'hostess in an engine' pictures. The only difference was the hostess was now trendy and hip.
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Iconic 'Hostess in a Jet'
This is Tammy. The original Trolley Dolly?
Tammy was, If not 'trolleyed' certainly very happy during and after every flight.
In these innocent days before litigation and health and safety legislation, Tammy often helped the groundcrew refuel and appeared to unload most of the baggage single handed.
Tarnished and Tarty. Pimp my Plane?
The trendy image continued through the 1960s but by the end of the decade the iconic 'swinging hostess' had became tarnished and tarty.
The girls became less efficient and service-oriented so the airlines responded by putting more and more of them onto their planes.
Here we see the emergence of a typical cheap airline where over half the people on board appear to be cabin crew and the passengers can't get any rest during the flight because of the din of the partying hostesses.
Southwest Airlines - Fly Me?
This seedy, degrading image of women in the air climaxes in pictures which are more reminisent of a massage parlour than the interior of an aircraft.
Jane, pictured here, learnt her skills in pole dancing dives and lap dancing clubs and is quick to solicit cash from her eager punters before delivering the goods.
Cut price airlines began to make cheap flights pay by selling lots of 'extras'.
Interesting that Southwest Airlines have more recently been in the news because they have asked female passengers to cover up because they were revealing too much flesh.
How times have changed!
Cut Price Pilots
As the glamour and uprightness of the hostesses declined so too those at the controls began to look less trustworthy.
These guys have pimps written all over them. Would you buy a used car from either of them?
Come to think of it, would you trust them to get you to Honolulu yet alone Bangkok in one piece?
More Hostesses in Jets
Meanwhile the more repectable airlines were still herding their girls into jet engines in a pathetic attempt to salvage their image and bring back the glamour of flight.
These pictures were taken so often that it was not unusual for the girls to have to climb into an engine after an 18 hour flight, with the thing still turning, just to generate still more cheap publicity.
Standards continued to fall and, by the early 1970s, the airlines suffered from a dramatic fall in the number of passengers and a significant reduction in staff discipline and behaviour.
One of the Better Airlines in Steep Decline
All Time Low in Airline Standards of Comfort
Meanwhile, the slide in standards continued until in the 1980s when budget airlines were born. The glamour had finally gone from the airline business.
The cabin crew now had to endure uniforms so unfashionable that even women on death row would refuse to wear them.
The gradual decline continued to the present day with increasingly vicious price competion cutting profit margins. The increasing demand for oil and the credit crunch finished off many traditional airlines.
Who knows what the future will bring? Airships or new greener aircraft using solar energy? Whatever happens the airline business is currently almost grounded and the future must surely be upward?
The Good Old Days of Flight
Southwest Airlines Ad from 1972
We Hope You Have Enjoyed Your Journey With Us Today
Dawnrichard on May 04, 2012:
Thanks for sharing.
Haroon on March 12, 2012:
Very interesting links in with my University research on low cost carriers.I am still in the process of collecting data anyone interested in taking part in my online questionnaire please copy this link. I would be grateful for you comments.
travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 30, 2012:
interesting article!!! quite an evolution of the air hostesses actually! for me personally, i love budget airlines as it really enables the traveller to get more in return for his/her money by being able to afford more time and experiences at the actual travel destination! for those who still want the frills, there are still plenty of luxury airlines operating!
Atlanta Vacation Packages on December 10, 2010:
Budget airlines have come in good for the middle class and for the upper class there are luxury class airlines so I think budget airlines have done only good to us.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on November 05, 2010:
sue - you are right. most of us can only afford budget airlines these days!
Adam - The need for increasing security doesn't help!
Clinton - Yes there was a golden age of flight but I agree that today its no fun either being a pilot or cabin crew.
Thanks all for stopping by!
Clinton H Groves on November 03, 2010:
I'm old enough (67) to remember when people dressed up to fly, a time when you could freely walk down the concourse and right up to the airplanes. I spent my career with Central Airlines, TWA, Pride Air and United. The early days were great but I would never recommend an airline career to any young person today.
AdamCairn from UK on November 25, 2009:
I totally agree. A flight on a commercial airline these days is one of the worst experiences anyone could have...
sue the airline from New York, NY on November 12, 2009:
budget airlines are a product of our reality. it is not so much whether they have killed glamour out of flying or not, rather it is a necessity. without it many would not be able to travel as often, or at all.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on October 03, 2009:
CJS - Thanks for stopping by. Free flights used to be a real perk before the days of cheaper air travel.
Ben - Yes Virgin to do more than most of their competitors to maintain the glamour and excitement of air travel. I am hoping to go to South Africa in 2 weeks time on business and sample Virgin UpperClass first hand!
Ben on September 29, 2009:
Oh I wish stewardesses still dressed in the South West Airlines way! Virgin's recent ad campaign on UK TV (September 2009) where it shows the cabin crew walking through an airport like celebrities shows Mr Branson's respect for the South West business model and that he knows that sex always sells!!!
Charter Jet Service on July 22, 2009:
This is a fantastic hub, my mother was an airline hostess back in the early 70's for United. I remember flying to visit my grandparents for free every summer. Fantastic photos, I love the history.
countrywomen from Washington, USA on November 23, 2008:
If you travelled widely in Europe can you publish a hub for travelling to Europe on a budget(Maybe break it down into southern europe (Italy, Greece & Turkey) then western europe (France& UK) and so on.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on November 23, 2008:
Yes I've never used it but I hear eurail pass is great value
countrywomen from Washington, USA on November 22, 2008:
Rik - I think US is predominantly about personal transportation. Europe is great for public transportation. I heard eurail pass is awesome for budget travellers (Our good old US dollar doesn't have the bang of Euro)..hehe
Rik Ravado (author) from England on November 22, 2008:
catala - plad you enjoyed 'real glamour'!
countrywoman - I love trains too. I once worked in the USA for 6 months and travelled from Albany to New York City by Amtrak. A great journey along the hudson River. You are right - Amtrak has very few routes, Rail travel possibilities are much better in India and in Europe. I love going from London to Paris by Eurostar - much better than the plane!
countrywomen from Washington, USA on November 22, 2008:
Rik - Great article about Airlines history. Btw the prices will fall down if more people travelled in present times and also since the price of ATF (aviation turbine fuel) is slashed now. I like to travel by train and keep getting down in various stations (my wonderful childhood memories in India). But here Amtrak isn't having lot of travel options.
catala on November 20, 2008:
having looked at your weird glamour hub I dont think we were imagining the past was more glamorous ..it was! I suppose it takes time to recognize cheese when it arises. Theres probably too much around now to maintain quality control..keep on searching.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on November 20, 2008:
TravelAMP - You have a good point - with the recession the budget airlines have no room to cut costs further and face increased competiton from the traditional airlines.
Catala - Yes I guess we sometimes imagine the past is more glamourous than it really was - Your comment about smoking is interesting. I remember sitting in a 'no smoking' seats but being overcome by the smoke from the smoking seats in front of me. There is nothing luxurious about being poisoned by smoke for several hours!
catala on November 19, 2008:
having visited Duxford air museum recently and boarded a couple of seventies passenger jets, they were never glam! they still stank of cigarette smoke and awfull inflight menus after nearly fourty years. the glam side were the destinations...I live on the Costa Brava developed from the fifties with hotels and restaurants that still stink of seventies cigarette smoke and inflight meals..its jaded...when you look at what people have been able to get away with in sexing things up in the air travel industry you have got to laugh and the budget companies like ryanair are a breath of fresh air (actually they stink of burgers and beer) I look forward to the future when they have standing room only travel with pay as much as you weigh tickets?
TravelAMP from Around the world on September 03, 2008:
While low cost airlines are putting pressure on the industry, it is also an opportunity for other airlines to re-position themselves. Like this rather small size Bangkok Airways http://www.bangkokair.com who manage to survive and make a good place in a niche market. Low cost airlines in Thailand are struggling because they cut too much cost and that affects their overall operation, service and safety. Quiet interesting actually.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on July 09, 2008:
travelgirl - you are right. The nearest think to old-fashioned flying these days is a traditional cruise on a ship
2 Patricias - Yes you know the glamour has finally gone when you have to take off first your shoes and then your belt before they let you on board!
2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on July 09, 2008:
What an entertaining Hub! I remember my first flight, as a child in the 1950's. My mother made me wear a hat and gloves. Now my main concern is wearing shoes that I can get on and off easily for security checks.
Rik Ravado (author) from England on June 11, 2008:
I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that one - I know some airlines specify a minimum of 5' 3". But not sure which ones have a lower minimum height. Good luck in finding a job!
sonali kapoor on June 11, 2008:
i want to became air hostess bt my height is 5.2 in which airline i will go
Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on April 13, 2008:
Too funny and very, very interesting (especially with airlines declaring bankruptcy faster than the sinking real estate market). Great photos to boot!
Decrescendo on March 27, 2008:
This is an interesting place.
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on March 08, 2008:
As a young child, on my first plane flight, in the early forties, I remember being served a birthday cake on a flight from New York to Lincoln, Nebraska. But I'm not nostalgic at all about the way flying used to be compared to today. Air travel became much cheaper after fares were de-regulated by Jimmy Carter, and some airlines, notably, Southwest, came to understand that their mission was to get people from point A to point B economically and on schedule without wasting time attempting to serve fancy meals and a bunch of booze on their flights. Southwest is world's better than the old line airlines like American and Northwest and others who have been slow to adjust.
ray mifsud on February 14, 2008:
great photos. love to see more of these picture-posters so lovingly used from the 50s to the 70s. great to see the way travel was portrated at those days. whata wonderfull collection they can make, well done
reversefunnelsyst from Nashville on February 02, 2008:
Great Information and amazing photos. Very unique subject to discuss because I am in a travel industry myself.
Have a great day
Rik Ravado (author) from England on January 17, 2008:
Oscar - this would make a great hub! - I had a quick look on Wikipedia and the first male steward was believed to be on a Zeppelin airship in 1911 (no name given). The first female was Ellen Church (25 years old) on United Airlines flight in 1930.
oscarmecp4 from South Africa on January 13, 2008:
Interresting subject. I was just wondering who was the first air hostess in the world and what Year. Can anybody help there?
Rik Ravado (author) from England on January 05, 2008:
PlasticPilot - thanks for the Ryanair story! I see from the site they have sold out - Glad the charity benefited but also excellent PR for Ryanair! Some passengers may be disappointed that the cabin crew are fully covered, however.
MortimerWorth - Yes at the end of the day you get what you are prepared to pay for, I guess.
MortimerWorth from Germany on January 05, 2008:
I just flew across the Atlantic twice with my wife and children. I actually mentioned the more glamorous days of flight as an ironic comment from my sardine can seat. Ultimately, we are a pragmatic people and "getting there" is no longer half the fun.
PlasticPilot from Europe on January 04, 2008:
It is certain that budget airlines are way less serive oriented that good old days high fare companies. I did not said less sexy, just because of the ryanair calendar story (for a charity) https://www.ryanaircalendar.com/.
However if you're still ready to pay high prices for high quality you still can, either in First Class, or even with private jets like those offered by Privatair ( www.privatair.com ) !
Rik Ravado (author) from England on January 01, 2008:
I had a similar experience when flying back from New York to London so years ago. Fortunately they had room in 1st class so I was upgraded from economy!
William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 01, 2008:
I pretty much gave up flying years ago when Eastern Airlines wouldn't let me board a flight from Fort Lauderdale to New York. I had bought my ticket two weeks in advance at a really good price, so it was obvious they sold my seat for several hundred dollars more than I paid. It's all about money!
Rik Ravado (author) from England on December 30, 2007:
Lissie you are quite right. The cost of air travel is so cheap now in Europe that we can't complain too much if standards have fallen slightly!
Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on December 30, 2007:
I think the main thing that has happened to airlines that its become a form of mass transportation - when I arrived in Perth in 1989 the cheapest way to Adelaide was the bus (3 days!) , today the bus no longer runs - the flight to Meblourne (further) can be had for A$190 on special! Qantas recently celebrated 50 years flying the Sydney -London route - the equivalent cost in 1957 was A$12,000 - more even than the new super 1st class private cabin on the new A380's ! For more air travel tips check out: https://hubpages.com/travel/Air-Travel-Tips