What was flying like in the 1950s?

In the early days of aviation, flying was restricted to the “happy few”, which is hard to imagine nowadays. From the 1950s, air travel became slightly more accessible to the broader public. It certainly wasn’t an everyday affair, mainly because tickets were still too expensive. The industry grew, however, and KLM and other airlines capitalized on these changes. This blog is part of a series taking a closer look at periods in which air transport took a leap forward.

 

Tourist Class

Following the example of other airlines, KLM introduced a second travel class in 1952. Tourist Class had more seats in the cabin and the service was less elaborate for these passengers. Tickets were cheaper, enabling more people to travel by plane. This led to the phenomenon of people booking flights to holiday destinations further from home. It’s not as if people were flying to Barcelona for the weekend, but this was a major leap forward in those days of post-war reconstruction. Subsequently, in 1958, ticket prices dropped even further when Economy Class was introduced, allowing even more people to travel by plane.

Bridal flight

During the first decade of the aviation industry, air races were regularly held to boost technological reliability and innovation. KLM competed in these races, often successfully. One example was the Last Great Air Race, which was held between London, England, and Christchurch, New Zealand in 1953. KLM won this race in the commercial category, completing the trip in around 44 hours. Nowadays, the same trip takes 24 hours to complete. Back then this was an impressive feat. The 1953 flight was also special. There was a large group of young women on board, traveling to New Zealand to meet their future husbands. This journey later became known as “the bridal flight”, which generated a great deal of publicity at the time and later became the topic of a book and a movie.

Delftware miniature houses

To set itself apart from other airlines in the 1950s, KLM began presenting First Class passengers with a keepsake. It was actually prohibited to give passengers souvenirs of any kind. KLM presented these miniatures as a “last drink on the house”, much like restaurants offer a round of liqueur. Instead of serving these drinks in a glass, they were served in a miniature bottle that passengers were welcome to take home with them. Various forms were tried until the first Delftware miniature house was introduced in 1952. This led to a tradition that eventually became one of the most iconic collector’s items. This year KLM will introduce its 100th little house. A very special milestone.

Entertainment

A lot has changed on board since the 1950s. Flying used to be a unique experience, but is a more everyday mode of transport today. There may be less space on board nowadays, but there is more entertainment available. On longer journeys, every passenger has access to their own inflight entertainment system. That certainly wasn’t the case back in the early days, where passengers passed time reading books, newspapers and magazines, or chatting with the crew and their fellow passengers. There was also hardly any contact between the plane and the outside world, which is gradually changing as internet access becomes more commonplace on board. In short, flying in the old days was almost nothing like it is today.

Nostalgia

Summing up, the 1950s were a transitional age for aviation, from an exclusive time when air travel was reserved for the elite, to the current day where flying is accessible to many. With the introduction of new travel classes, distant trips became more affordable, but air travel certainly wasn’t in reach of the broader public yet. KLM took part in various races, which continued to draw a great deal of attention, but gradually became increasingly rare. To ensure passenger loyalty, airlines sought ways to give people a lasting memory of their flight. People traveling Economy Class in those days were already far removed from the nostalgic elegance of the early years of aviation. But the 1950s did open the aircraft door to a larger group of people, allowing them to experience the magic of air travel.

Posted by:   Nick van Rijn  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

Peter Gyfteas

With the exception of those who can afford first or business, traveling by plane is a terrible experience. There are too many people who crowd the skies who should stay home and stop believing that mindless travel enhances their lives,

Jane Porter

I have my 1957 houses and other KLM pieces from my first flight with you, I was 6 weeks old.

Janet

My first flight was round trip in May 1954 from Minneapolis to New York, from New York to Oslo, Norway. It was fabulous! I have traveled by air frequently since but will always remember the excitement and service I got on board KLM!!

Armando Ariza

In 1955, at the age of 7, I started reading KLM’s propaganda in the magazine “SELECCIONES” of the Reader Digest and I called the attention of the photo of the ‘Super Constellation’ with its emblem Royal Dutch Airlines Company ‘and from that moment so far the aviation is my “OBSECION” called KLM ….

Jannieschagen Vreeken.

Ik volg voor eerst met KLM van Kopenhagen naar Amsterdam in 1952
?Maar met en voetbal ploeg van Nederland.In Amsterdam ging ik op de foto met m’n pop in m’n armen Ik vlog alleen. Werd ophaalt in Amsterdam.Ik zou zo graag die foto willen zien.Myn hartelijke dank.Jannie Schagen Vreeken

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