Charlie Chaplin boarding the De Havilland 86 in 1935

There’s a lot of talk about the nostalgia of the “Golden Age of Travel”, glorified by shows like Pan Am where we see passengers sipping on whiskeys and Martinis as they jetted across the Atlantic, reclined in large recliner seats, dressed impeccably.

B 707 1966 cinéma.jpg
Air France 707 introduced its onboard Cinema in the 1966

The warm fuzzy memory of the JetSet era – with the likes of the Piano lounge on the 747 and lobster thermidor on silver platters – might seem somewhat removed from the perceived pedestrian passenger experience today, but TheDesignAir actually feels that we are seeing the true Golden Era of airline travel right now.

Emirates has one of the most impressive AVOD libraries of entertainment

While passengers at the rear of the plane might disagree, the fact that passengers can now travel to the other side of the world for the cost of a few weeks wages should remember that back in the 1930’s the same trip would have cost the equivalent of two years wages. So next time we pick our economy seat based on price, we need to remember that the cost directly reflects the real-estate on the aircraft we will be taking up. 10 abreast in 777s is an economical way of keeping our ticket prices low.

CAL economy 2
China Airlines economy seats can turn into small beds

That substantial outlay 80 years ago wouldn’t have got you any more creature comforts – in fact, nowadays, passengers can enjoy inflight entertainment such as Emirates 2500 different on demand options, compared to just a distribution of local newspapers. The original Kangaroo route from Qantas didn’t have flight attendants. Any catering was supplied by the co-pilot in a 10-seater De Havilland 86 aircraft.

Singapore Changi – undergoing expansion – is one of today’s major international hubs

If that doesn’t sound so bad, imagine the trip between the UK and Australia taking 12 days, with over 30 stops. In comparison today, passengers can travel with ease, with most airlines now offering seamless connections through their hubs, offering one-stop trips almost anywhere across the globe. Today saw the arrival of Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Auckland, currently the longest non-stop flight in the world.


While the 50’s and 60’s are more reflective of the best era to fly, with the introduction of jet aircraft connecting major city pairs. Comfort in the front of the plane was nowhere near the levels of comfort that most international carriers now offer. If you think the dining was better back then, Singapore Airlines still offers Lobster Thermidor in business class and multiple airlines offer Krug, Dom Perignon and Laurent Perrier even in business class.

Current First Class Dining on Japanese Routes. 

As for comfort, almost every major carrier now offers fully flat beds, private suites, butlers, mammoth TV screens, luxury brand amenity kits, pyjamas and even showers. Etihad’s A380 The Residence is unparalleled currently compared to space, service and amenities.

White Company Pyjamas now on Qatar Airways

As for the images we’ve all seen from the 60’s of passengers enjoying the 747 upper deck in a more relaxed ‘Piano lounge’, the concept of an onboard relaxation space hasn’t died. Although Virgin Atlantic had an onboard bar long before Emirates A380 version became so successful, other carriers have also followed suit including Korean, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Onboard bar
Virgin Atlantic made the onboard bar iconic, but Emirates has more global recognition with it’s A380 onboard bar and showers

As for the ground experience, carriers like Lufthansa and Air France can drive First Class passengers directly to the plane and arrivals lounges are available in most international airports. Pre-flight, airport lounges have never been so expansive, well-stocked and luxurious, and consumers can be chauffeured straight from their front door to the airport as part of our ticket.

Cathay Pacific’s London First Class Lounge

Cathay Pacific are doing a fantastic job of bringing that emotional connection to the JetSet era, with timeless design touches, warm tactile finishes and a hint of “Mad Men” 60’s style.


In summary, compared to the lengthy flights, cramped cabins and limited recliner seats, today’s aviation world offers passenger comfort that never has been seen before. With design companies and airlines working hard to continue to improve the passenger experience while keeping LOPA and material weight to a minimum we can also presume to see this enhanced passenger product flying for years to come with limited fare increases to compensate for the continued improvements. Long live today’s JetSet era.


Posted by:Jonny Clark

15 replies on “JetSet Era? We Believe It’s Alive And Well

  1. Of course when discussing the ‘Golden Age of Air Travel’, one must remember that during the first half of the 20th-century it was by scheduled ocean liner that most people travelled between the continents. It wasn’t until 1958 that more people crossed the Atlantic by airplane than by ship. The many hundreds of liners that crisscrossed the world’s oceans offered various classes of service (First, Cabin, Special, Second, Tourist, Third, Steerage…) and were priced according to the ‘real estate’ one occupied onboard as well as the amenities included during the voyage.

    So while airline prices may have been beyond the reach of the middle class, that did not mean prospective travelers were forced to stay at home if they couldn’t afford a plane ticket. As late as 1973 I crossed from New York to Cannes aboard the Italian liner ‘Raffaello’, paying just $150 for a discounted Tourist Class ticket. That was much cheaper than flying an Air France 707 Economy Class to Paris and connecting to a Caravelle to Nice. And my Italian Line fare included not just transportation and meals for two weeks, but also day-long stops at ports of call such as Madeira, Casablanca, Cadiz, Naples and Genoa.

    Naturally, in the 1970’s not everyone would have had the time to spend two weeks travelling to the Mediterranean. But my point is that in the past there were more options for getting from point A to point B.

    For trips that didn’t involve crossing large bodies of water, industrialized countries maintained extensive rail services, which also offered different classes of service; at rates far below those of the airlines. One could pay the minimum fare and sit upright in Coach all night, nibbling on a brown-bagged sandwich, or pay extra and sleep in a comfortable berth, after a multi-course meal in a dining car resplendent with gleaming silver, fresh flowers and starched linens.

    More than fifty years before the arrival of the 777 and A380, popular airliners such as the Lockheed Constellation and the Boeing Stratocruiser offered passengers willing to pay the price, private sleeping berths that were roomier than today’s lie-flat seats. There were roomy restrooms for men, and separate powder rooms for ladies, the latter fitted with a mirrored vanity table and upholstered seat. Onboard the double-decker Stratocruiser, a curving staircase connected the main deck passenger cabin with a lower deck cocktail lounge. Half a century before Etihad Airways, some air carriers – United Airlines being one of them – equipped their Stratocruisers with a private stateroom, which seated four, or slept two. (Available, according to United’s magazine ads in the 1950’s, for a ‘slight’ extra charge.)

    Having taken my first flight (aboard a DC-4) more than sixty years ago, I’d have to say that while this may indeed be a ‘Golden Age’ of flight, it is certainly not the ‘Golden Age’ of travel. I’d happily trade my lie-flat Business Class seat to Tokyo, for a Main Deck stateroom to Yokohama aboard the splendid ‘President Cleveland’ or ‘President Wilson’. And rather than line-up for yet another intra-European flight aboard an easyJet Airbus, I’d so-o-o much sooner cross the continent on one of the cream & red-painted trains of the long-departed Trans Europe Express, which until 1995 connected 130 European cities with elegant trains bearing names such as ‘Rheingold’, ‘Le Capitole’ and ‘Adriatico’.

    Travel is different now. But sadly, I don’t think it’s better. Certainly, we have fewer choices.

  2. In Europe you can travel all over by high speed rail, so you have that choice there. If I had the time and money sure, I’d like to travel from New York to Le Havre aboard a mondern day version of the S.S. France, but, the reality is that just doesn’t exist any more. C’est la vie.

    P.S. Heck, I’d love to travel three days across the Atlantic in a Zepplin like the Hindenburg (with Helium instead of Hydrogen, of course). Now THAT was an “Ocean Liner of the Air”. Still an Etihad A380 in First or Business (if you can afford it – which I cannot) isn’t bad. Pas du tout!

  3. It’s true, Kevin, that there are still plenty of high-speed rail connections within Europe today. There just aren’t as many as there used to be. I live half the year in France and find I have to make rail connections on routings that used to have direct train service. Consequently, I often find myself flying; not because I want to fly, but because I can’t find a reasonable rail option. Long-distance overnight trains have virtually disappeared. The days of boarding a European express in the evening, having dinner in the dining car, retiring to a comfortable berth, and awakening in one’s destination city are almost completely over.

    As for the ‘Hindenburg’, now that was really uber-First Class. The transatlantic airship fare in the 1930’s was around $400 ($6,898 in today’s dollars), whereas a First class ticket aboard the ‘Normandie’, the 30’s most luxurious Atlantic liner, could be purchased for $275…

  4. Not as many as there used to be? I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. There is MORE not less high speed rail today. TGV, Eurostar, Thalys, ICE, AVE, etc. You don’t need overnight with these trains.

  5. You’re right, Kevin, we’re coming at this from different perspectives. I’m familiar with those trains, and have taken TGV’s, Eurostar and Thalys a number of times. ICE operates mostly in Germany, and AVE within Spain . Fine as these high-speed companies are, they do not span Europe like TEE used to do (from Spain, and the toe of Italy, all the way to Denmark). And I still contend that inconvenient connections are necessary today (sometimes involving a change of train stations), on routes that used to have direct service. Frequency on many routes has been reduced, such as Venice-Geneva; now down to one direct train a day. I’ve been riding trains in Europe since 1967 and in many instances find it harder and harder to get from point A to point B. Right now I’m trying to work-out the best way to get from from Toulouse to Edinburgh in August. Any suggestions?!

  6. Yes, TVG to Paris, Eurostar to London, and then whatever crap British train you can get from there. But seriously, who cares if you have to make a connection to go further? There’s direct service from Paris to Barcelona, Milan, Zurich, Geneva. Brussels, London, Amsterdam and even London – Marseille.

  7. Toulouse to Paris Austerlitz, followed by a cross-city schlepp – with luggage – to Paris Gare du Nord. Arrive London St. Pancras and schlepp once again, to King’s Cross to catch “whatever crap train you can get from there.”


    No wonder so many Europeans have easyJet on speed dial!

  8. Not to mention too that St. Pancras and Kings Cross are literally right across the street from each other. Man, you are lazy.

  9. Mr. Clark, You haven’t experienced flying in the 60s, obviously. I feel sorry for you. But if sharing space with fellow First class passengers wearing t-shirts, sneakers and jeans, eating their oscietra caviar along with a beer can is what makes today’s flying experience golden to your eyes, then I am glad for you that you are not in the jewellery business!

    1. I agree with Vincent Philippe. Last year, sitting in Business aboard a Delta flight departing Atlanta for Johannesburg, the low-life slob sitting across the aisle from me removed his shoes and socks and began clipping his toenails while we awaited push-back. Charming.

  10. Excellent posts, guys…can I join you on a Zeppelin crossing to Europe, Kevin? Now that would be a trip. Time to create a time machine.

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