Boomers Flew In Airplanes

Air travel became practical for consumers in the U.S. by the 1930s — if you were wealthy enough to afford a ticket. It wasn’t until after the War that average people making long trips looked at air travel as an alternative to trains or cars. For many parents of boomers, their first air flight might have been being sent overseas during the War. However, Armed Forces travel within the U.S. at that time, such as to or from basic training or domestic bases, was mainly restricted to bus or train. Once soldiers, doctors or nurses were deployed in Europe or the South Pacific, they might have taken their first flight.

For many boomers, the building of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration (construction began in 1956) meant travel by car between states became easier, and even considered fun for a family visiting relatives or vacationing. As the commercial prompted, See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet, so they did.

Mister Boomer is not sure when his parents first boarded an airplane; it’s not something either mentioned. For Mister B, though, it was a high school senior class trip that put him on a plane. Now more than 50 years have passed and Mister B has been on too many flights to count, for job-related business trips, as well as vacationing and visiting family in other parts of the country.

Flashing back to that senior class trip, though, Mister B remembers he was extremely frightened and anxious about the flight. He had never flown before, and frankly, it didn’t seem natural that these giant metal tubes with wings could stay in the air. A few days before leaving, Mister B was so apprehensive that he wrote a “farewell” letter to his family and friends, presumably to be found in his dresser drawer after the bad news reached home. He had convinced himself that the plane was going down with him in it.

The day of the boarding, Mister B resigned himself to the c’est sera of the moment; whatever will be will be was his thought. Once seated — at a window — Mister B somehow calmed himself enough to stare straight ahead during the takeoff. Having never seen the view of his city from the sky, and ultimately the top of the clouds, Mister B was able to enjoy the scene out the window — while still expecting the worst outcome. Obviously that did not happen, and Mister B had an acceptable long weekend away, as well as one might expect with high school classmates and chaperones in constant sight.

Mister Boomer conjured up these memories because there have been some high-profile incidents in the air over the past few months. It reminded him of some bare-knuckle flights he has been on over the years, like the one flying through a thunderstorm, strapped tightly in his seat, with lightning bolts striking the wings of the plane; or the flight that was filled with so much turbulence that at one point the plane fell precipitously. After what seemed an eternity, the pilot made an announcement reassuring the passengers that the bumpy ride might continue a while longer, and, oh no worries, the plane just dropped 10,000 feet in that last dip.

By the 1970s and ’80s, most boomers had experienced air travel. The Boomer Generation is likely to have been the first generation to say a large percentage of its members took to the air. Currently there are several research studies that are pointing out that boomers are more comfortable with air travel than the Millennials who followed them. Who knew there would be generational differences on attitudes about air travel?

Still, the perception of air safety does not match the data. Ironically, despite the number of people flying per year is millions more than during the prime boomer years, far fewer fatal crashes occur than during their peak of the 1970s and ’80s. The data amazingly provides some reasoning for Mister Boomer’s trepidation way back when. At the time of his first flight, less than 10 million people flew each year, yet in the early 1970s, approximately 10-15 crashes occurred annually. Contrast that with today’s air travel by more than 25 million people, with less than 10 fatal crashes per year. Improved technology both in the air and on land rises to the top of the list to explain the steady drop in airplane fatal crashes.

When Mister Boomer returned home after his first round-trip flights, he immediately grabbed the envelope that contained his in the event of.. message and destroyed it.

How about you, boomers? When did you first board an airplane?

Boomers Were Ready To Fly

Like television, air travel had been around a couple of decades before the Boomer Generation, but it took until then to be practical for the everyday family. Commercial air travel began in the 1920s, but it was almost exclusively a resource for the wealthy. After the war, two things changed the equation: the availability of surplus aircraft from the war launched dozens of regional airlines, plus the introduction of commercial jet travel. Domestic and international airlines competed with each other and a modern industry was born.

Just two short years after the beginning of the Boomer Generation, in 1948, the first coach fares were introduced. Taking its cue from the railroad industry, airline coach fares offered a more economical ticket price to a destination. Nonetheless, by the mid-50s, the National Air and Space Museum states the number of passengers that flew by air per year hovered around 100,000 … worldwide! At this time, Dwight Eisenhower was president, but the national freeway system was not yet built, so the major mode of transportation for long distances was by train.

In 1959, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) was formed to address a series of airline accidents over the preceding decade, in order to make flying a safer endeavor for passengers. This FAA became the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967, when the Department of Transportation was created by an act of Congress the previous year.

At the beginning of the 1960s, air travel infrastructure became more advanced, with air traffic control towers and radar becoming commonplace. Along with the technology came the modern airport. By the 1970s, the number of passengers that flew in airplanes tripled to more than 300,000. Today, more than 4 billion passengers travel by air each year.

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It is always fascinating to Mister B that so many technological and social advancements happened in the early days of our youth. In a completely unscientific, anecdotal survey done within his circle of boomer friends and family, Mister B can report that middle class families known to him tended to take their first flights somewhere in the 1970s. Mister Boomer knows one person, an early-year boomer, whose first flight was in the late 60s; he was flying to attend a university in another state. Meanwhile, a boomer born at the end of the generation in 1964 relayed that he flew with his family on a vacation in the mid-1970s. The first-flight age difference between the early-year boomer and later-year boomer is striking; one was college-aged, in his late teens, and the other under ten years old.

In the early 1960s, the national highway system had been built, and commercials invited people to “… see the USA in your Chevrolet.” That was the case for Mister Boomer’s family (except it was in a Ford). For the decade of the 1960s, his family drove on vacation, ultimately criss-crossing the country to destinations from coast to coast, a week or two each summer.

Mister Boomer’s first flight occurred courtesy of a high school senior class trip. He knew of no one in his class who had been on an airplane before that flight. His parents didn’t take their first flight until years later, to see their first grandchild, born to Brother Boomer, who was living in another state. As far as Mister B knows, both his paternal and maternal grandparents never flew in an airplane. There is your generational difference.

How about you, boomers? When did you take your first airplane flight?