Bygone Boeing Photos Portray The Grace And Glory Of Air Travel In The 1970s

When Boeing originally designed the 747 they considered it a low-end product, never suspecting that it would become a cultural icon of the modern era. From 1970 until 2007 when the first Airbus A380 took to the skies, the 747 was the largest passenger carrier ever, and the remarkable image of its bulky head has become part of our cultural consciousness.

Photos from the early days depicting spacious cabins, comfortable lounge chairs and smartly-clothed passengers are a stark reminder of the ‘golden age’ of commercial aviation in comparison to the packed and often poor travel conditions we’re accustomed to today.

In a time when airlines competed on service and not price, the Boeing 747 was the undisputed ‘hero bird’ of this era – the good ol days when passengers didn’t try to avoid baggage fees by bringing carry-ons that would have classified as full size luggage, when flying was intended to be a memorable experience, when service mattered, and when swivel seats were almost the only way to fly.

Commercial air travel was an affluent and social affair and most airlines had forward and aft lounges where passengers were free to stretch their legs, have a drink and network with their peers.

Ladies & gentlemen welcome aboard this departure flight to London. Please greet your neighbour, charge your glass and light up a smoke.

Smoking Cigarettes on the Plane

Legroom legitimate in the 747 Economy Class of the 70’s.

Passengers aboard a Boeing 747 enjoy the spacious economy class configuration.

Photo from Pan Am archives

Can you imagine any airline of the modern era configuring the cabin interior of the 747 specially to provide more “living space” for each passenger? Braniff International did! Circa 1971.

Braniff International 747 Interior 1971

Photo from Braniff Flying Colors

Flying in the 1970’s meant more room for knitting and nattering.

Retro 747 Cabin Interior

Suit up, fasten your seatbelt and sit back. The early Boeing 377 Stratocruiser interior.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Photo from davidmixner.com

The luxurious First Class International Lounge onboard a 747. This uber plush and Larsen textile adorned Upstairs Lounge featured 12 extravagant lounge seats and a “Shagadelic” rug.

First Class Braniff International Boeing 747-127

Photo from Braniff Flying Colors

The Boeing 747 was once, and to some extent still is, the most exclusive address in the sky.

First Class Cabin Braniff 747

Photo from Braniff Flying Colors

This retro 747-100 Upper Deck Lounge looks like something out of The Jetsons

747-100 Upper Deck Lounge

Photo from boeingimages.com

Yep, traveling in a Boeing 747 in the 1970s was pretty damn awesome!

Inside the Boeing 747 of 1970

Jack Wadell, the First 747 Pilot, helped with the airplane’s design, particularly the cockpit.

Jack Wadell Boeing 747 Pilot

Photo from boeingimages.com


While the appeal of old school commercial aviation still holds strong, there’s much to be said for the new era of flying – an age piloted (pun intended!) by Boeing and Airbus with its A380. Many operators of Airbus’ flying behemoth have forgone the opportunity to squeeze more seats in favour of increasing features and creature comforts in the sky – this harks back to the old school days of aviation.

Emirates is one major carrier leading the charge in this regard with their Onboard Lounges, while the Lufthansa’s 747-400 retrofitted First Class cabin where everybody gets a seat and separate bed also springs to mind.

Not to mention the service one receives in the sky nowadays! From the “Flying Chef” service on Turkish Airlines to Etihad’s recently introduced “Flying Nanny” concept – a new offer from the airline whereby specially trained child caregivers are available to parents on long haul flights for an additional fee.

On reflection, there’s no doubt that we have lost and gained perks in the skies and we found these retro Boeing photos from the 70s to be a fitting memento from the Golden Age of flying.

The prototype 747, named the City of Everett, is on display at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

The prototype 747, named the City of Everett, is on display at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Our Readers Comments

  1. Those were the good times but was very expensive ! Nowadays more people can travel by air because of more affordable rates and that is the reason why the legroom and space per passenger is less so that the airline can still (hopefully ) make a profit ! I love flying !!

  2. Now thats what I call class.
    Bring service back and sardine cans away.
    Techno sucks when money rules.

  3. Thank you for showing us these lovely photographs of a bygone era. I found the reference to smoking quite interesting, but the disappearance of smoking from flights is a wonderful improvement.
    However, I am afraid that the references to improved comfort on the modern airplanes is limited to the small portion of passengers in business and first class. For the greater bulk of passengers who have to fly economy class, it gets more crowded and cramped all the time.

  4. Yes I agree. I was an airhostess with SAA in 1967 -1969. Everone on board smoked. The air was filtered in the cabin and the leg room and seats were comfortable. In fact, SAA prided themselves of more leg room, more comfort and the best service and food. This is what IATA allowed the airlines to do. This was how they were allowed to compete as the BEST airline. No one that I can remember EVER got a DVT and all enjoyed their flights. It was such fun! Very special. Having investigated why people get so VERY ill flying now a days is that apparently, the airlines save on fuel costs as there is no smoking on board and feel they do not have to filter the air. A DVT is caused by LACK OF OXYGEN. This needs to be seriously conveyed to the public and IATA needs to bring in a ruling on this deathly matter. I flew to Russia from SA via London – I got two DVT – clots in my right leg and was put onto WARFRIN for a whole year. It could have killed me as it has done to all the other poor passengers who cannot move in their cramped seats let alone breath. There are now so many passengers in one little box – all trying to make it to the other side in one piece – destroyed on arrival. The two years I flew were the best years of my life – I just felt bad receiving a cheque at the end of the month for all the fun I had had and all the incredible people I had met and how I represented my country with pride. Not now – I never fly SAA as it is so bad, I fly BA – what a shame. Thanks for those pictures and your feedback. Kindest regards, Pam Bird 080 549 8337

  5. Then (1970’s) people were treated as PEOPLE, now they are seen as a ‘commodity’ that has to pay to be transported from one location to the next! It is your money that is the most important item not the person. Passengers are often seen as a nuisance rather than humans with needs.

  6. I emigrated to S.A from England in 1975 on SAA. I still have the menu (yes menu) that we recieved on board, complete with tassell! The food was top class, a far cry from todays fayre. Service, space, all have been sacrificed in the name of making money.Flying was an adventure in those days, a wonderful part of your trip, today its something to be endured to get you to your destination……sad.

    • Hi Suzan just came by your comment I’m a avid collector of Saa old stuff if you ever wish to sell the menu please let me know Mrarturmartins@gmail.com

  7. This reminds me of an airline I’ve come across that actually does “Nostalgic Flying” – SkyClass Aviation – using historic planes to recreate flying from the golden age… Take a look!

  8. I found this very lovely and interesting.

  9. I don’t remember any of this. I was a college student, using student standby to grab coach seats at bargain prices on short hauls like Chicago to New York.. The seats were less cramped than today but not really all that different. Maybe the big difference was flying internationally, which I didn’t do – or maybe the 60s were the real glory days. I do know you had to have a lot of money to fly in that style.

  10. Unfortunately, nobody seems to grasp the concept that if you are willing to pay the same amount of money for your flight as in the good old times the same luxury is still available. Its called Business Class or First class. The airfares where lowered considerably since the 70s.
    So dont expect to luxury for the money you would pay for a train ride…

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