The “Golden Age” of Air Travel Has Flown Away

The “Golden Age” of Air Travel Has Flown Away

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Air travel.

Today we love to hate it.

But there was a time, still clear in the memory of living Americans, when flying was fun, glamorous, and the the way to travel.

Boeing 707The plane that changed the travel game for all of us, even those of quite modest means, was envisioned and constructed by a company based in my hometown, Seattle.

As a kid, I watched Boeing pilots take that four-engine beauty on test flights over the city.

But over a decade would go by before I found myself seated aboard one.

Ah, the Boeing 707, what a plane it was.

Don’t we wish U.S. airlines still had it up in the air.

If you were born on or after Halloween of 1983, you never had a chance to experience what it was like to ride aloft in a 707 operated by a American domestic carrier.

But both those who, like me, are old enough to remember that “magic carpet” airliner, and those who never set foot aboard one, have a chance to see what it was like “back in the day” when the 707 made “friendly skies” a reality.

Here’s how.

Pan American Airlines, aka “Pan Am,” like the 707, no longer operates from U.S. airports.

But it set the world of air travel afire when it launched its New York-to-Paris 707 service in 1958. If seeing is believing, even those who can’t believe that air travel was once something that passengers actually looked forward to, will believe that being a passenger on one of those Pan Am flights was a heavenly experience.

Now a new book, Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour and the Romance in Aviation’s Glory Years, by William Stadiem, lets readers relive those bygone days of aviation glory.

As Stadiem points out, you didn’t have to be a rich member of the “Jet Set” to be able to afford jet airline travel. In fact, not only were airfares from the U.S. to Europe relatively dirt cheap, but the cost of travel in general was so modest in the years following the 707’s debut flight to France, that even college students could afford to do their own version of the “Grand Tour” of the Continent.

I haven’t seen the book yet—it was released just last week. But since I can’t afford to buy and restore one of those first Boeing commercial jets, at least I can now read about them (including in a Kindle e-book version on my iPad) on my next flight, while being undecided about whether I should continue to fly through the air with the ever increasing unease that travelers face these days.

(Listen to author William Stadiem discuss Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour and the Romance in Aviation’s Glory Years, with Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media’s popular business and finance radio show, “Marketplace.”)


(Note that the captioning of the Pan Am 707 YouTube video indicates that the inaugural flight was in 1954. However, the Boeing Company Website says Pan Am did not initiate transatlantic service until October of 1958. Dick Jordan worked briefly at Boeing’s Renton, Washington plant in 1967. Purchases made from through links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories.)

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