What Flying Was Like 50 Years Ago When Man First Walked on the Moon
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
On July 16, 1969 — 50 years ago today — the Apollo 11 spacecraft was launched on a Saturn V rocket from Cape Kennedy, Florida (now Cape Canaveral) at 9:32am EDT. Aboard were commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins and lunar module pilot Edwin (“Buzz”) Aldrin. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would become the first people ever to set foot on the moon, while Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo 11 command module.
President Richard Nixon wrote that it was “the greatest week in the history of the world since Creation.” Families all over the globe gathered around their television sets to watch the grainy black and white images of Armstrong descending the ladder from the lunar module onto the moon’s surface.
At the same time that Armstrong took his “one small step,” flying here on Earth was very different from today. The late ’60s and early ’70s are considered by some historians to be “the Golden Age of travel.” And 1969, in particular, was a pivotal year for the aviation industry. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of humankind’s greatest flight, here’s a look at US commercial aviation in the “Mad Men” era.
You were probably flying one of these airlines
If you were flying domestically in 1969, you were probably aboard American Airlines, Delta Air Lines (the current titleholder as the oldest operating airline in the US), United Airlines or one of the major airlines that, while thriving in the 1960s, no longer exist: Northwest Airlines (then called Northwest Orient), Pan American, Trans World Airlines (TWA), Eastern, Continental, National, Braniff and Western.
Flights were really, really expensive
According to HuffPost, for domestic flights in 1969 you would have forked over almost $1,200 (in today’s money) for a round-trip from Chicago to Phoenix. International tickets were even more prohibitively expensive. One-way to Rome? $3,000 when adjusted for inflation. And that’s in coach.
You could have departed (or arrived) at JFK’s TWA Terminal
Today, the TWA Terminal at JFK is a swanky, heavily stylized hotel with a rooftop pool and bar. But in 1969, the terminal was fully operational, and had just added a new departure-arrival concourse and lounge known as Flight Wing Two. There, dressed to the nines, you could sip on your Old-Fashioned and think about all the cigarettes you planned to smoke once you were aboard the plane. Yep — that was allowed.
Basic economy who?
As the flying experience was all about glitz, glamor and consuming an endless amount of free alcoholic beverages, it’s no surprise that coach seats had about three to six more inches of legroom than economy seats do today. In fact, economy class seats in 1969 were more akin to what we’d expect in business class now. So, after your inflight lobster dinner, you could recline and drift off to sleep. That is, if you could stomach the loud sounds of the piston engines and heavy, sometimes dangerous, turbulence.
The year 1969 was also a turning point for commercial air travel.
The “Queen of the Skies” — Boeing 747 — took its first flight…
While it wouldn’t be until January 1970 that the (now-defunct) Pan Am would operate the first commercial Boeing 747 flight, from New York to London, the jet took its first flight in 1969. This behemoth of an aircraft would soon revolutionize travel with its high-capacity (500 passengers!), luxurious service and spacious upper-deck lounges. All US airlines have switched out the old Queen for newer, more modern aircraft, but if you’re looking to spot (or fly) the 747 — don’t fret. Air Force One is a VC-25, a military version of the 747, and there is a number of international carriers still operating the original widebody jet.
…and so did Concorde
The first supersonic Concorde airliner also made its maiden flight in 1969. The prototype took off from Toulouse, France, and was piloted by André Turcat. However, it didn’t go supersonic until late that same year — entering service just a few years later. For nearly 3 decades, the visually striking Concorde was able to fly five miles above and 800 mph faster than the 747s, making journeys across the Atlantic with Air France and British Airways. The final British Airways Concorde flight took off in October 2003.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees