Someone once asked Baby Boomers to name the most epochal moments in history. It turns out they are so self-absorbed they feel only history they personally experienced is epochal. In this spirit of self-absorption, I'll relate what I see as epochal moments in the history of flight.
-by Ronald Khol, Editor
The Airport as Recreation. During the 1950s, airports had observation decks where people could watch flight operations. The experience was so exiting that men and boys often took their girlfriends there on dates. Whole families would make it an outing to give the kids a thrill.
My first flight. It used to be almost unheard of for children to fly. I was 21 years old and a senior in college when I took my first flight, a trip for a job interview. The airplane was a twin-engine Martin or Convair, I don't remember which. When the pilot wheeled onto the runway and pushed the throttles forward, the acceleration was unlike anything I had ever experienced in a car. It went on and on without letup and was so exhilarating that an involuntary grin swept across my face.
By age 25 I had begun to fly frequently on business, but the high cost prevented my wife from accompanying me on trips until we were 31 years old. During this era, passengers always dressed as ladies and gentlemen. Men wore coats and ties, while ladies wore dresses and white gloves.
Dress Code Fractured. The dress code was so rigid that several airlines began men-only service between New York and Chicago. The idea was that business men, after a grueling day dealing with customers, wanted to get on an airplane, loosen the necktie, push back the seat, and have a drink. Such decorum was inappropriate for mixed company, so ladies, with the exception of stewardesses, were not allowed on these flights.
Sometime in the late 1960s I saw the dress code fractured in a major way. Six men in casual attire (gasp) boarded the airplane. That was so astounding, I asked the stewardess what was going on. She explained that the men were millwrights traveling to install machine tools in an automotive plant. Even then I had a feeling that the deviation from the dress code was an ominous foretaste of things to come.
First Turboprop. The first technological leap I experienced was riding on a Vickers Viscount in the late 1950s. These were the first turboprop airplanes to see service in the United States. Their smoothness made them a quantum leap over piston-powered airplanes.
The Jet Age. The first jet to see service with an American airline was the Sud Caravel, made in France. The deck angle at takeoff, something travelers never even notice today, was so steep it was astounding. On one night flight when I was sitting in an aisle seat without ground reference at takeoff, the angle was so steep I thought the airplane was going over on its back.
The First Youth. Sometime in the 1970s, airlines tried to boost revenue by offering low fares to college students. This brought an unwelcome influx of uncouth youth into airports. For the first time, we saw guitars being lugged onto airplanes as carry-on luggage. It also was the first time we saw scores of young people sitting on the floor at boarding areas. They had no idea how to behave, and still don't now that they are adults. This marked the beginning of the end of genteel air travel.
The End of Civilization as We Know It. Next came backpacks, something previously not seen as carry-on luggage. Then senior citizens began boarding in jogging suits. Good Lord, how terrible they look. Next, Southwest Airlines and other budget carriers pretty much destroyed air travel as a civilized medium. Today, terrorists have totally put an end to air transport as refined travel. They have won the battle and have us marching to their tune. In my lifetime, air travel has changed from being an exciting event to something I try to avoid.