Pre-9/11 Air Travel: Good Old Days That Were Good Old Days

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SAS DC-8-33. Interior of cabin. Service on board, air hostess and steward serving Scandinavian Country Style Buffet in 1969.

By MARK OKRANT, NH Travel Guru

My wife and I were traveling to Los Angeles last week, to await the birth of our grandchild. As we sat at Gate 14 in the frenetic Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, I overheard a conversation between a grandfather and his pre-teen grandson.

The boy asked whether flying had changed dramatically since his grandfather was ten years old. The din from flight announcements, baristas making coffee, and excited passenger conversations prevented me from listening to the grandfather’s response. However, the boy’s question made me reflect about my own response, if I’m fortunate enough to be asked a similar question by my own granddaughter, in ten years.

Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru

I think the first thing I would tell her is that travel by airplane was a much more exclusive domain sixty years ago than it is today. Back in 1957, when I turned ten, people from the lower economic strata were extremely infrequent fliers. In fact, my first airplane ride was on an Allegheny Airlines craft that carried ten of us Army Reserve inductees to basic training at Fort Ord, California.

One of my lasting memories about flying during the early seventies was the process of purchasing a ticket. My granddaughter will question my sincerity when I tell her that online reservations were non-existent. Imagine how completely foreign the idea of going to a store called a travel agency to shop for airfares and hotel reservation will seem to a child in 2028.

I smile when I think back about the full meals that were included in the price of one’s airfare. I can clearly remember how passengers complained about those meals. Passengers expected to receive them, and were easily displeased by their contents: “my chicken isn’t hot enough,” “there’s no gravy on my potatoes,” or “I ordered the vegetarian meal.” Who among us would not be grateful for a meal of any kind today?

The aspect of airplane travel for which I wax nostalgic has nothing to do with ticket purchases, hot meals, or any other absent services. How can I possibly convey to my granddaughter that airports were once fascinating, care-free places where passengers and non-passengers mingled freely.

Back in the early seventies, my wife and I had occasional date nights at Bradley Field in Connecticut. We would follow passengers to their gates, sit by windows as airplanes arrived or departed, then sat in a restaurant enjoying coffee and dessert, all the while discussing dreams about our own future travel adventures.

In those days, before TSAs and color-coded security alerts, airplane travel was an aspirational, delightful experience. I regret that my granddaughter’s generation will have only the wistful memories of grandparents’ experiences from a time that, sadly. has passed.

After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joins to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.

For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit

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