Longing for the ‘golden age’ of air travel?

Longing for the ‘golden age’ of air travel?

Janet Bednarek
Professor of History at University of Dayton

Long lines at security checkpoints, tiny plastic cups of soda, small bags of pretzels, planes filled to capacity, fees attached to every amenity – all reflect the realities of 21st century commercial air travel. It’s no wonder that many travelers have become nostalgic for the so-called “golden age” of air travel in the United States.

During the 1950s, airlines promoted commercial air travel as glamorous: stewardesses served full meals on real china, airline seats were large (and frequently empty) with ample legroom, and passengers always dressed well.

After jets were introduced in the late 1950s, passengers could travel to even the most distant locations at speeds unimaginable a mere decade before. An airline trip from New York to London that could take up to 15 hours in the early 1950s could be made in less than seven hours by the early 1960s.

But airline nostalgia can be tricky, and “golden ages” are seldom as idyllic as they seem.

Until the introduction of jets in 1958, most of the nation’s commercial planes were propeller-driven aircraft, like the DC-4. Most of these planes were unpressurized, and with a maximum cruising altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, they were unable to fly over bad weather. Delays were frequent, turbulence common, and air sickness bags often needed.

Some planes were spacious and pressurized: the Boeing Stratocruiser, for example, could seat 50 first class passengers or 81 coach passengers compared to the DC-3’s 21 passengers. It could cruise at 32,000 feet, which allowed Stratocruiser to fly above most bad weather it encountered. But only 56 of these planes were ever in service.

While the later DC-6 and DC-7 were pressurized, they still flew much lower than the soon-to-appear jets – 20,000 feet compared to 30,000 feet – and often encountered turbulence. The piston engines were bulky, complex and difficult to maintain, which contributed to frequent delays.

For much of this period, the old saying “Time to spare, go by air” still rang true.

Through the 1930s and into the 1940s, almost everyone flew first class. Airlines did encourage more people to fly in the 1950s and 1960s by introducing coach or tourist fares, but the savings were relative: less expensive than first class, but still pricey. In 1955, for example, so-called “bargain fares” from New York to Paris were the equivalent of just over $2,600 in 2014 dollars. Although the advent of jets did result in lower fares, the cost was still out of reach of most Americans. The most likely frequent flier was a white, male businessman traveling on his company’s expense account, and in the 1960s, airlines – with young attractive stewardesses in short skirts – clearly catered to their most frequent flyers.

The demographics of travelers did begin to shift during this period. More women, more young people, and retirees began to fly; still, airline travel remained financially out-of-reach for most.

If it was a golden age, it only was for the very few.

People also forget that well into the 1960s, air travel was far more dangerous than it is today. In the 1950s and 1960s US airlines experienced at least a half dozen crashes per year – most leading to fatalities of all on board. People today may bemoan the crowded airplanes and lack of on-board amenities, but the number of fatalities per million miles flown has dropped dramatically since since the late 1970s, especially compared to the 1960s. Through at least the 1970s, airports even prominently featured kiosks selling flight insurance.

And we can’t forget hijackings. By the mid-1960s so many airplanes had been hijacked that “Take me to Cuba” became a punchline for stand-up comics. In 1971 D.B. Cooper – a hijacker who parachuted from a Boeing 727 after extorting $200,000 – might have been able to achieve folk hero status. But one reason US airline passengers today (generally) tolerate security checkpoints is that they want some kind of assurance that their aircraft will remain safe.

And if the previous examples don’t dull the sheen of air travel’s “golden age,” remember: in-flight smoking was both permitted and encouraged.

(SOURCE: https://theconversation.com/longing-for-the-golden-age-of-air-travel-be-careful-what-you-wish-for-34177)

The renaissance of the superhero post 9/11

The amazing renaissance of the superhero post 9/11

The release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes in the middle of a slate of super heroic movies including Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and the second in a series of X-Men prequels.

Expectations for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are high. The film promises much big screen excitement. But to some, there is the added expectation of a self examination of the American psyche. This is something that, post 9/11, viewers of superhero films have come to expect.

In the days pre-9/11, depictions of superheroes were variously considered to be “camp” (in the case of the Batman series, for example), simple entertainment, fantasy and escapism. The original Superman film from 1978, for example, touted the tagline: “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

But post-9/11 preoccupations have slowly propelled a fundamental change in how superheroes are used to reflect the societies in which they exist. Gone are the one-note villains of past texts, hell bent on destruction and death for the sake of it, theatrically costumed as if to suggest a slightly amusing side to their maniacal desires. These villains of yesteryear, who could be easily defeated by the hero in under two hours, have been replaced with complex representations of man’s inhumanity to man. And they are set against darker, deeper and more vulnerable superheroes whose weaknesses are exposed like the raw nerve that was America in the days following the 9/11 attacks.

The superhero was forced to evolve past the camp, entertaining structures of the past, and to acknowledge with considerable pain that, when faced with a threat unlike any America had yet to encounter, the superhero of yesteryear was no longer capable of swooping in to save the day. Post-9/11, the traditional notion of superheroes rung hollow. They had to be reinvented so that they more realistically reflected the fears and concerns of a new, post-attack, America.

Examples of this reaction can be seen in films such as Captain America: Winter Soldier. The films track Steve Rogers’s development from his initial patriotic state, through the questioning of authority in The Avengers, to a realisation that the days of a clear, definitely evil and clearly identifiable enemy are gone.

Instead, Hydra has re-emerged in the post-9/11 landscape as a shadow of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Captain’s own agency. Rather than exist in sharp counterpoint, both agencies feed from the same trough of surveillance and fear in order to inflict a totalitarian regime upon a previously free people. By presenting both groups as two sides of the same coin, the previous modes of “us versus them” immediately becomes less tangible, raising questions of the meaning of freedom, the imposition of the will of one group over another, and the nature of terrorism itself.

A similar development is seen in the other films, too. Iron Man’s Tony Stark, for example, moves quickly through an evolution from heartless arms dealer to using his technological genius for the greater good. He comes to understand the post-9/11 world as one in which the climate of fear greatly increases the capacity to abuse people. A more nuanced character emerges. And more overtly, Iron Man has tackled the power of fear as a weapon of contemporary terrorism by centring the most recent film on an international terrorist’s machinations to power. The fact that the terrorist turns out to be a well-produced phony furthers the post-9/11 anxiety about the power of fear to craft policy.

But it is perhaps Spider-Man who audiences have always been able to identify most directly with. Spidey is an everyman, and sees the world in much the same way that an average American might. As a New Yorker, Spider-Man is symbolically linked with the city. So as a result, one might understand him as representative of the reaction of the city and the nation in the post 9/11 world.

The hero is frequently seen seeking to understand his identity both as a regular guy, and as a hero. This self-questioning is similar to the self-reflection that America as a nation was forced to undertake after 9/11. Some of the most poignant imagery in the comics immediately following the attacks was that of Spider-Man observing the rubble, with an all-consuming feeling of powerlessness.

And in the films that have followed, viewers watch him successfully save the city from imminent threat after imminent threat while being demonised in the press. In these films, the role of the media to construct a narrative of who is good and who is a threat is a prominent feature. Each scene seems to replay the destruction of 9/11 with a more hopeful ending, acting as a filmic exorcism of anxiety.

These figures are super powered beings, able to do things beyond the grasp of mortal man. But, in most cases, they are men and women themselves. The spectre of terrorism that reared its head on 9/11 has fundamentally changed the heroes, as well as the country. They are no longer purely nationalistic icons of the might of a nation state, or manifestations of a particular wish-dream or emotion. They are more vulnerable, uncertain in many of their decisions and constantly adapting to the changing position of America in the world.

pronunciation template

Pronunciation of


IN YOUR LANGUAGE (Top right > Select language > Click on the flags).

In this free English Pronunciation lesson you will access:

  1. Pronunciation Video of the
  2. List of Vocabulary of the Video
  3. Pronunciation Quizzes (2 to complete):
    I) Speak the Words
    II) Speak the Words Set
  4. Downloadable PDF of the Lesson (click on the link above)

I/ Pronunciation Video 


II/ List of Vocabulary of the Video

... all contain the

Try pronouncing them slowly, then fast.

III/ Pronunciation Quizzes 

Speak the Words - Pronunciation Quiz:

Speak the Words Set - Pronunciation Quiz:



Lesson 30 – The Entertainer – To Do/To Make

Lesson 28 – Problems With The Internet – Verb To Go

Lesson 27 – Garage Sale – « To Want » in passive form

Lesson 26 – Writing Class – The infinitive

Lesson 25 – The Playwright – Reported Speech