Slouched over my coffee, the morning fog in my mind had not lifted, I held the warm cup in both hands helping extract the heat. Raising my eyes, slowly focusing on the television, a 747 jumbo lumbering into the sky came into focus. As always, a plane on television was a greater boost to my state of awareness than the caffeine in my coffee.
Luckily, I caught the beginning of an episode from The History Channel’s Our Generation titled “Fly With Me”. This is one part in the The History Channel’s Our Generation series, depicting life changing events of the baby boomer generation.
The jet age ushered in a new era of transportation which made world destinations attainable to the average American. The age of rail and bus travel provided affordable transportation for many, but required lengthy travel which limited many people’s journeys. Baseball teams where primarily regional before the jet age, with most game played only a days journey away from their home. The business traveler would only see distant customers for the most important meetings, and only the wealthiest vacationers could afford to travel to far away places since air travel was very expensive. Before the Jet Age, the average ticket cost one thousand seven hundred dollars in today’s money, allowing only a limited number in our society to enjoy the alacrity of air travel.When Boeing developed the 707 jetliner, the baby boomers where in for a grand surprise. The new jets where larger, could carry many more passengers, and by placing more seats on the aircraft, more economical. The average person could do two things that where impossible just a few years prior. First, a passenger could fly from to the opposite coast in the morning and fly back again the same day. Second, the coast to coast journey became affordable to the average American worker because the cost of air travel dropped precipitously.
The golden age of propeller aviation gave way to the jet age. But the transformation had its challenges. Larger runways required construction to accommodate the ever increasing girth of the jumbo jets, and the noise of the new aircraft impacted the lives of those close to these new jet filled airports.
Socially, the jet age transformed the average citizen from a spectator of world cultures to a participant. Awareness of the new cultures, destinations, and histories grew because getting on a plane and traveling was became increasingly affordable and safe.
This was also the time of the short skirts and a blatantly sexist and discriminatory hiring policy for flight attendants. Airlines where not ashamed to display the attractive young ladies in their ever decreasing hem lines to the public both in television and magazine ads.
We also saw a great shakeup in the industry and the promulgation of discount air carriers after the airline industry was deregulated in 1978. An intensely competitive market permitted those who could only afford a bus fair to now “jet set” to Florida for a sunny vacation.
The history channel’s journey from the golden age of aviation to the jet age was a fun journey into our past, and is related by the great story teller and historian Dr. Steve Gillon. Dr. Gillon takes us back to a time many of us remember as a rapidly changing and exciting era in American history. Our Generation: the Jet Age, made me both laugh at the incredibly sexist airline commercials, and sigh in awe at the advances of this new travel medium.
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