How we used to pass the time on long flights

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June 09, 2019

How we used to pass the time on long flights in the “golden age of flying” is very different to today.

During the 1950s and 60s in-flight entertainment or “IFE” as we know it today was in its infancy and rudimentary.

And flying in the 1950s was much slower and far more turbulent, while the initial jet services were mostly multi-stop affairs because of their shorter range and to pick up passengers.

READ Eastbound or westbound? Which is worse for jetlag?

For instance, Boeing developed a special version of its 707 for Australia’s Qantas so it could fly nonstop from Sydney to Fiji as part of crossing the Pacific via Honolulu.

So, let’s take a peek back through the archives to reveal what travelers did to amuse themselves on those long flights in the 1950s and 60s.

The most popular form of entertainment was, of course, reading – a good thriller, a romance or just catching up with the news in a newspaper, because don’t forget there was no internet, FB or twitter via WiFi.

Reading was popular on aircraft
Passengers on a Lockheed Constellation of British Airways enjoy some magazines. Geoffrey Thomas Collection colorized by Benoit Vienne

When you weren’t reading, mealtime was a grand affair even in economy.

For those in First Class, the meal was preceded by drinks in the downstairs lounge if you were on the Boeing Stratocrusier.

Dinner was a multi-course affair served more often by stewards in a white coat and back tie no less – and at your table.

Passengers are served dinner
Passengers are served a multi-course dinner. Geoffrey Thomas Collection / Colorized by Benoit Vienne

After dinner or lunch, you might retire again to the lounge and meet the captain who would do the rounds. It was great PR to calm nervous flyers for passengers to chat with a multi-striped veteran who had experience etched in his rugged good looks.

Passengers relax in the aircraft's lounge
After dinner, passengers could retire to the lounge to discuss the trip with the captain. In the 50s and 60s the flight crews were encouraged to mingle with the passengers. Boeing Historical Archives

For those in economy perhaps a game of drafts with mum and dad.

Playing drafts with mum and dad in economy class
Passengers often used board games, like drafts, to entertain themselves. Geoffrey Thomas Collection

Playing cards was also popular and airlines would issue them with logos, or pictures of planes or destinations that they flew.

Passengers playing cards in the lounge
Passengers often used cards to pass the time. Boeing Historical Archives

When you weren’t playing cards you could use them to build a house. This was a popular PR shot to illustrate how smooth jet travel was compared to the piston-engine aircraft they replaced.

Flight crew were always on the lookout for junior flyers and would explain the route the aircraft was taking.

Pilots would often talk with young flyers
Flight crews were encouraged to talk with young flyers. Geoffrey Thomas Collection

Millions of young flyers signed up for the various Junior Flyers clubs which came with log books of your travels and pilots would oblige and fill in the details of the flight.

Another way to illustrate how smooth jet travel was compared to the piston-engine era was to balance matches.

Passengers would build things with matches
Airline PR staff were quick to use photos to illustrate how smooth jet travel was. Geoffrey Thomas Collection / Colorized by Benoit Vienne

Afternoon tea was a grand affair with full silver service with a collection of sweets and pastries that would tempt even the most resilient weight watcher.

Passengers take afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea was a grand affair and another way to waste some time on a long flight. Boeing Historical Archives

Many business people traveled with staff to take notes and type letters on the journey.

Lady types for her boss on the flying boat.
Many business people took along their secretaries to type letters on the journey. Geoffrey Thomas Collection / Colorized by Benoit Vienne

Ladies would take their knitting on flights but today knitting needles are banned.

Ladies knitting on a Boeing 707
Ladies would often spend their time knitting. Boeing Historical Archives.

While other mothers would read to their children.

Mothers would read to their children on planes
Many mothers would read to their children. Boeing Historical Archives

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