Back in the day, travel was a fancy affair

(Photo credit: iStock)

Almost everything about the way we travel has changed over the decades, from the clothes we wear en route, to the legroom we have when we finally board. Travel was once a formal affair, and while it’s certainly gotten cheaper and more efficient, we’ve sacrificed much of the pageantry and flair that once made embarking on a journey feel special.

Here’s a look back at just some of the ways travel has changed over time.

People used to — gasp — dress up to fly:

While the standard airport uniform today seems to range from sweatpants to fancy sweatpants, the golden age of air travel brought new meaning to the word runway. Men wore suits and ties, women wore dresses, hats and gloves. Flight attendants (stewardesses, back then) were practically models. There was champagne in coach! Flying was an event, but that makes sense considering “the average person in the 1950s would pay up to 5 per cent of his yearly salary for a chance to fly.”

Travel trunks were the preferred form of luggage:

Before rolling suitcases, and carry-ons with app-enabled location tracking, there was the travel trunk. Sturdy enough to withstand long journeys, stylish enough that Louis Vuitton himself opened a trunk-making business in Paris in 1854. While not suitable for earlier travel by foot or horse, the advent of the ocean liner and the steam engine — and with them, extended periods away from home — brought trunks to the fore. But with the rate today’s baggage fees are racking up, we’ll stick with our modern, lightweight suitcases.

Planes used to have a smoking section: 

This travel habit isn’t too far in our collective past — “people could smoke cigarettes on airplanes until Feb 25, 1990.” That was just for domestic U.S. flights. The rule didn’t extend to all international flights until 2000. Since the smoking section of a plane is about as effective as, well, a smoking section in an impossible-to-leave restaurant, we’re happy to see this aspect of flying gone for good (and flight attendants thank you, too)!

You could eat like a king on an ocean liner:

Ocean liners were the peak of luxury before the great depression. Multi-roomed suites, chandeliers in the dining room — you’ve seen Titanic. But the food, oh, the food. This July 4, 1905, dinner menu from aboard the S.S. Caledonia of the Anchor Line is something to behold. Turtle soup, sweetbreads, roast lamb and beef, squab on toast! Though most lines failed to attract passengers after the stock market crash, resulting in the mode’s eventual demise, ocean liners were truly the classiest way to get from point A to point B. That is, if you were more of a Rose than a Jack.

You could board a plane without showing ID:

“Between 1968 and 1972, hijackers took over a commercial aircraft every other week, on average,” according to Brendan I. Koerner’s book, The Skies Belong to Us. That might be because no one even had to show ID. Ticket agents merely looked passengers over to see if they seemed “suspicious” (a concept it seems we’re still not firm on today). Makes getting to the airport a couple hours in advance seem not so bad after all.

Originally published March 1, 2016.

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