What’s A First Class Lounge?

April 20, 2015

In this new series on classic airline ads we’ve seen passengers boarding, but now let’s take a look inside the remarkable Douglas DC-8 – world’s newest commercial jetliner in 1958. Contrasting the Boeing 707’s smaller closely spaced cabin windows, DC-8s had a row of large, widely-spaced windows plus two separate windows on the right side of the forward fuselage and one separate window on the left.

DC8 the world's most luxurious jet liner

This unusual arrangement served a unique, but practical purpose, for among the many distinguishing features of the giant (for it’s time) Douglas jet was a proper First Class Lounge located directly aft of the forward galley. Touted as a brand new “Jet Age” feature, this was essentially an updated version of the similar seating arrangement found on Douglas’s piston-powered DC-7.

Before low-cost carriers flew aircraft with an intimate 29-inch seat pitch, airlines touted lots of space and luxury as a valued part of the flying experience. Yes, today’s top international carriers certainly offer luxurious service and First Class amenities unimaginable back in the 1950s, but what could a typical First Class passenger expect flying aboard the DC-8?

Perhaps the biggest difference back then was smoking on board an airliner. Passenger seats of the piston and early jet eras had ashtrays with sliding metal covers built right into the armrest. Yet looking at the accompanying ad with every single passenger holding a cigarette, we see only one small flip-top ashtray in the skinny armrest of the sofa-like seat in the foreground. (Oddly enough, none of these cigarettes seem to be lit.)

Although seemingly believable, this illustration somehow evokes a very surreal feeling. Our fashionable female passenger seated at the window has her hands clasped, yet is firmly holding her cigarette as she leans toward the man seated to her left. But why is she resting her left elbow on the table, and why are those delectable cold cuts left untouched?

Another question is why that gentleman isn’t making eye contact with the smiling flight attendant – I mean stewardess – about to light his cigarette? What is that somber lady at the extreme right thinking about, and why are there no shadows on the floor under the seat? Note there’s also not a single seatbelt anywhere to be seen in this lounge!

And then there are the stewardesses. One is holding a Ronson butane lighter as the other holds a bucket with Champagne, but mysteriously, we can’t see their faces. The illustration is crafted around the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue while the warm tan on the bulkhead and table effectively complements the cool blue of the lavatory and closet doors at upper right. And nothing says “luxury” like a bright red carpet!

Another curious aspect of this illustration involves the direction in which all standing figures are gazing. The man at upper right and both stewardesses are looking into the scene, directing your eye straight toward the seated passengers. Not only are all the poses a bit odd, but so is the overall staging of the composition. So what is really happening here?

The answer revolves around one very simple artistic premise with the artist employing every device he could to achieve one very important goal. He made you stop and actually look at this ad for “The world’s most luxurious jetliner!”