10 Airline Perks From Yesteryear That Seem Unbelievable Today

By Paul Michael on 30 March 2015 1 comment

If you've taken a flight recently, you've probably noticed just how much service has declined. In most cases, meals are no longer free. Checked bags cost money. You have to pay for a movie or TV show, and sometimes the headphones too. Beer, wine, and spirits are extra. Plus, if you're flying coach, you're squished together like sardines. And let's not forget about the horrendous waiting times to get through security checkpoints. (See also: 12 Travel Perks You Didn't Know Your Credit Card Had)

But it wasn't always this way. Here are 10 airline perks from yesteryear that'll have you wishing we were back in the 20th century.

1. Lobster Was on the Menu

Ahh, the first class menu, right? Nope. Full meals, with lobster as an option, were served to everyone. This was done during the highly competitive days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when flights were routinely taking off at less than half of capacity. In an effort to win customers, airlines started offering more luxurious perks for free. Lobster was one such perk, and although it may not have been five-star quality, it was way better than the free bag of pretzels you get today.

2. Everyone Had More Legroom

In an effort to squeeze more money out of each flight, airlines have started making the seats closer together. But back in the 1950s, people in economy class (or coach) had three to six inches of additional legroom. And it wasn't something you paid extra for, like you do today.

3. You Could Drink for Free

Alcohol is still free for those traveling in first class. But back in the day, everyone was served free drinks for the duration of the flight. If you want to get tipsy on board these days, you'll have to prepare your wallet for take-off, too.

4. You Could Buy a Lifetime First-Class Pass

Well, let's be realistic. Few of us could ever afford to drop the $250,000 needed for a lifetime of free flights in first class. But for those who had the money, it became a nightmare for the airline. The AAirpass, from American Airlines, was offered in the 1980s. It was one of those "all-you-can-fly" offers that seemed like a killer deal for the airlines. However, they soon realized that some people do an awful lot of flying. And worse still, some travelers were racking up over $125,000 in flights in less than one month. American Airlines abandoned this perk, for obvious reasons. Those who have one can still use it, and whenever they book, they get an amazing flight for absolutely nothing.

5. New York to London Took 2 Hours and 53 Minutes

Some people say the greatest perk you can ever get is a fast flight. And no flights were faster than those on the British Airways Concorde. It could travel at twice the speed of sound, or around 1350 mph, which is more than double the speed of the typical subsonic aircraft. Of course, this perk came at a cost — somewhere between $12,000 and $20,000 per ticket. For those used to shelling out a lot of money to travel first class, it was a justifiable expense in order to get there very quickly. Sadly, due to an accident in 2000, and increasing overhead costs, the fleet of Concordes was retired from service. Will we ever see the perk of supersonic travel again? You can count on it…but don't hold your breath for anytime soon.

6. Smoking Was Allowed on Board

This is a perk to some, and an utter nightmare to others (including myself). As a non-smoker, I'm very happy that smoking is not allowed on airlines any more. But, during the golden age, you could smoke cigarettes, pipes, and cigars at any time other than take off and landing. After a while, the cabins became dedicated to smoking, or non-smoking…which is why this joke from "Airplane!" worked so well in its day.

7. Getting to the Plane Was a Breeze

Forget long security lines. Forget fishing around for ID. Back in the day, you could saunter up to the airport 30 minutes before takeoff, and get to your seat without any worries of missing the plane. In fact, back then you didn't even need a ticket to get to the departure gate. You could sit around with friends and family, and they could hug you goodbye just minutes before the doors were closed. Airline security concerns have made those benefits a thing of the past.

8. There Were No Charges for Extra Luggage

We all know about charges for carry-ons and checked luggage. Back in the day, that was unheard of. In fact, you could bring whatever you wanted onto the plane, and you could also bring as much as you wanted. Some people had four or five carry-ons, and three or four large suitcases. As the flights often weren't booked to capacity, there was always plenty of room.

9. Headache? There Was a Pill for That

If you've ever had a headache on a flight, you know there's absolutely no point in asking the flight attendant for medicine. Back in the late 1980s, airline lawyers made sure no medicines could be handed out by the flight crew. But before then, it was perfectly acceptable to get your headache pills and allergy meds from your steward or stewardess. They all carried little packets of Tylenol and Advil for those times when the screaming kids made life hell.

10. You Could Lay Across a Row of Seats

Today, if you're very lucky, you might get a seat with no-one sitting next to you. That is rare. Often, flights are overbooked, and occasionally people are even asked to give up their tickets and take a later flight. But in those heady days of flying — heck, even just 15 years ago — some flights were less than half full. It was not uncommon to have an entire row of four or five seats to yourself on international flights, and you could relax across them all, using the free blankets and pillow provided.

Now…do you remember an awesome flying perk from yesteryear? Tell us about it.

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Guest's picture
Lloyd alter

In the mid 90s I was travelling to Japan on an almost full 747. Napa air knew that Japanese people did not like sitting next to gaijin So they put all the empty seats around me. I had 4 seats to myself on a totally ful 13 hour flight. Sometimes xenophobia oh as its benefits.

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Guest

I do remember having your family or even friends walk with you to the plane and sit with you if you arrived early which we didn't have this ridiculous security situation to deal with so of course most of the time we would arrive early and being a former smoker I agree with the smoking policy really you can't away from the odor want you exposed to those toxic smell like chemicals I don't personally remember having headaches but I have seen similar situations as such they could've been handled with the little consideration for another human being And I did feel for those suffering especially unnecessarily