Travel Before TSA: Were the Skies Really Friendlier?

3022215-slide-8267210465670e3d76e5oOne of the best things about blogging is interaction with readers who share their stories, comments and their own travel experiences with me. Of course, I especially love hearing stories of their literature-inspired travel. Sometimes authors send books they’ve written that fit into that category for a review or a mention.

I recently received a couple of volumes from a former TV journalist Unknown-1and travel writer, Walt Christophersen. In A Temporary European and By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane and Sometimes Hitchhiking he recounts his adventures as a journalist in the 1960s and 70s and includes some of his articles from that period.

What I enjoyed most about Walt’s books is the look back they provide to a time when traveling seemed much simpler. Remember what traveling was like before 9/11, TSA screening and all the other hassles we now endure? The books made me think back to the days when flying was actually glamorous. I remember traveling as a child with my parents to visit my grandparents in Florida. I wore a spiffy little knit suit, my dad wore a suit and tie, and mom was glamorous in her mink stole, which was much more useful on the return trip to Michigan than trotting around Florida’s east coast. We had actual meals served to us—with cloth napkins and silverware! We had leg room! We checked our luggage—for free!

Walt’s books are a refresher on the days when adventurous travelers could go to places such as Afghanistan and Syria without too much danger, though as he reports, not without discomfort. (If you’re a freelance writer, the really depressing part is that from his account it appears that the wages for writers, particularly freelance travel writers, haven’t changed much since the 70s.) Still, his stories remind us of the lure and fascination of travel to exotic places.

In a lot of ways, those days of air travel weren’t as idyllic as they seem in my memory. People travel all over the world now, much more than in the 60s and 70s, despite the hassle. I ran across a fun article in Fast Company that compares travel in the 50s and 60s with the present. As it turns out, the skies weren’t quite as friendly as I remember.

For example, airfares were 40 percent higher, adjusted for inflation, with the average person in the 1950s paying up to five percent of his or her yearly salary for a chance to fly. There were no movies on long flights, but plenty of smoking, drinking and, ultimately quite a bit more vomiting en route. Stewardesses looked great but had to retire when they got married. I never saw a female pilot.

Despite the ups and downs of air travel, Walt certainly enjoyed the adventure and his readers do, too.

He says, “To borrow a modern cliche, it was a great ride.”

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