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?