Then and Now: Marks Airline Anniversaries With a Look Back

How a Century of Air Travel Has Carried Us a Long Way

BOSTON, MA--(Marketwired - Aug 17, 2016) - It's easy to forget how much aviation has changed since 1926, when United and American airlines took to the skies with their first paying passengers. In those days, air travel was expensive and slow -- slower than the train -- with frequent stops for refueling along the way. Since then, planes have gotten faster, destinations more varied, airfares more affordable and flying much more comfortable. We're living in a golden age of air travel, which might be hard to believe when you're sandwiched in an economy seat. But, as you'll see, the early days of commercial flight were no picnic either. The team of travel experts at, the online leader in finding and publishing travel deals, has gathered some facts to help put it in perspective. Check out their History lesson: Celebrating a milestone year in air travel to get a sense of just how far flying has come.

Read on for some startling facts about the early days of aviation:

  • Airfares, now vs. then - Today's flight experience is, of course, vastly different on many fronts from the early days of air travel. One of the most notable differences is how much we pay for our journey and what's included in the price. Flight prices today are really about getting from point A to point B. While it's been a major (and not hugely popular) shift to a la carte pricing for everything from checking bags to selecting seats, it's just the most recent step in the evolution of flight pricing that has reshaped the industry since deregulation in the late 70s. "In my parents' generation, it cost several thousand dollars in today's money to travel to Europe. Even coast-to-coast trips were something relatively few could afford," said Patrick Smith, a pilot who runs the website Ask the Pilot. "The idea of flying as a form of mass transit, with college kids jetting home for a long weekend or to Mexico for spring break, is very new."

  • Flying wasn't as glamorous as many think - Many passengers today grumble about airport security, seat selection and meager in-flight amenities, but the past wasn't perfect either. For starters, the check-in process was slow. "Upon entering the terminal, one checked in at the counter; everything was manually recorded and [passengers were given] paper copy tickets. You checked your bag because there were no overhead bins," said Stephen Carbone, who has worked for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

  • More people fly now - "Commercial aviation kick-started an industry that today provides a kind of global connectivity that wasn't possible prior to 1914, when the first commercial flight occurred," said Pete Schlichting, an Airbus captain for a major airline. Ticket prices were so high in the early days of air travel that most Americans couldn't afford to travel. Eight out of 10 Americans had never flown on a plane in 1965, according to a June 25, 1965 "Time" magazine article. By contrast, some 43 percent of Americans took a plane trip in 2007, according to a Gallop poll on airline satisfaction.

  • It took longer to get to a destination - Before deregulation, routes were determined by the government, but there were several reasons why it often took longer to get from one place to another. "It's funny to imagine, but by the end of the 1920s, air travel was slower than train travel for long journeys because of frequent refueling stops, choppy air and planes were not able to fly at night," said Schlichting. "Despite these challenges, passenger traffic grew from only 6,000 in 1926 to nearly 173,000 in 1929."

  • The seating has changed - In the early days, all seats were first class, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner of "Airline Weekly," a subscriber-supported publication about the airline business. "In the 1950s, airlines including Delta Air Lines, began experimenting with coach flights at off-peak hours -- in other words, not first class and coach cabins separated by a curtain, but entirely separate flights. Later they begin offering two cabins on the same flight, as we see today," said Kaplan.

  • The food has changed -- for the better - Tray tables were uncommon in the early days. Meals had to be eaten on a pillow, which was placed on the lap of passengers, said Yannick Schmiech, Corporate Communications at Condor, who notes meals were always served with silverware and porcelain. "In many instances, airplane food, although free, was often criticized. Today, the airlines are competing against the many restaurants in the terminals that passengers can purchase and easily bring on board," said Schlichting. "The quality of the meal has definitely improved and is competitive in price."

Suffice to say, air travel has come a long way from its beginnings a century ago. More routes, shorter flights, amenities like on-demand entertainment and WiFi, and all of that offered for lower airfares. For a detailed look back at the early days of commercial flight, have a peek at's "History lesson: Celebrating a milestone year for air travel" at

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