10 Things Kids Today Would Never Believe About Flying in the 1980s

Posted on
May 23, 2012

As a kid, I wanted the window seat. Now I prefer the aisle, so I can get up to pee.

There are days when I feel far older than my 31 years (Wait, am I 31? What year is it …? No, I’m still 31. Dear god. Losing track of my age is not a problem I used to have). When something happens that makes me realize that I have been on the planet for three long decades, and then some.

Take, for example, the time I had the following exchange (via Google chat) with my brother-in-law, who is 10 years my junior:


Me: … it must have been around the time River Phoenix died.

Him: River Phoenix?

Me: Oh, dear god, no. Don’t. Just don’t.

Him: Who’s River Phoenix?

Me: NO. You can’t actually not know.

Him: Wait … is he related to Joaquin?


Him: Hold on, I’m looking him up … Okay, you can’t get mad at me for not knowing who he was. I was, like, three years old when he died.



I know. It’s just horrifying. The kid was born in the nineties and is able to drink. It’s enough to make you curl up and weep for your lost youth, the untimely death of poor River, and the cancellation of Pete and Pete. And it makes you realize how many of the immutable pillars of your childhood mean nothing to younger generations.

When it comes to flying, where the rules change every time some idiot tries to bring down a 747 by hiding C-4 in his underwear, this is particularly true. Traveling in planes today is not what it was when I was a child. Here are some of the things I remember from air travel during the 80s and 90s that will sound utterly shocking to younger generations:

  1. There were tiny pre-wrapped soaps. I suppose it was simply a sign of more careless, excessive times: in the 80s and earlier, airplane bathrooms were stocked with individually packaged miniature soaps. I remember loving these, and would hoard them in my carry-on (I don’t know why I did this. There was never a soap shortage at my house, from which I could save my family by showing them my hidden stash, and be hailed a hero). Eventually, I guess the waste became costly: every person who used the bathroom would grab a soap, unwrap it, use it, and toss it. Now most planes have soap dispensers. Certainly less charming, but a hell of a lot-more eco-friendly.
  2. Airplane food was bad. And I mean really bad. These days, I’m never that fazed by airplane food, because it is SO MUCH BETTER NOW THAN IT WAS.

    Believe me when I say that this is a serious improvement.

    I remember once, when I was six years old, peeling the tin foil back from my meal and seeing an orange hemisphere floating around in dark brown sauce.

    “What is this?” I asked my brother.

    “A peach.”

    “Yeah, but what’s it in?”

    “Gravy.”Dear god, I kid you not: there was a peach FLOATING IN GRAVY. Twenty-five years later, that venture into culinary purgatory still haunts me. (Granted, most airlines don’t even serve food nowadays, but I still think that’s an improvement. At least they aren’t scarring people for life.)

  3. There was a smoking section. ON THE PLANE. Which, of course, was right next to the NON-SMOKING SECTION. And wouldn’t you know it, that pesky smoke would never stay on its half of the plane.
  4. There were pillows and blankets everywhere. Seriously, economy class looked like a harem. Sometime in the last few decades, though, I think someone finally realized that no one was washing the damn things, and that the blankets were harboring diseases that pre-dated manned flight. So we bid adieu to pillows and throws along with the illusion of comfort. On the plus side, we substantially reduced our chances of dying of consumption.
  5. You weren’t charged for extra luggage. Or, at the very least, it was rare. I remember, on my trip during my youth, traveling with approximately seven carry-ons.

    Pssh. In my day, I had three times this much luggage.

    Another time, I boarded a plane with a Rubbermaid tub that vaguely resembled, in both shape and dimensions, a coffin (I swear it wasn’t even considered oversized). And I met a guy who told me that when he left for college (some 20 years ago), he was told by one agent that his bag was too big and he couldn’t take it. So he said okay, walked down a ways, and plopped it on the conveyor belt with no problem. I don’t know how these things happened. But they did.

  6. We kept our shoes on. It’s true, kids: we really did. And our belts. And if we set off the metal detector, we simply removed the offending item, plopped it on the x-ray machine, and went through the metal detector again. No pat-downs. No weird blue naked images viewed by a lonely, underpaid TSA worker. Nope. You might have a metal-detecting wand waved over some of your squishier parts, but that was it.
  7. There was one movie, and to watch it, you had to buy headphones. When I was a child, the price sounded astronomical – something like $3 a person – so we’d never end up getting the ear buds. We’d just crane our necks in an attempt to see the one screen near the front of the plane, and try to discern the plot by failed attempts at lip-reading. Nowadays, on international flights I have my own screen.

    Sure, it’s great, but where is the poetry? Where is the hardship that made us appreciate existence? Sometimes I watch the screen without headphones on so I can remember what it feels like to be alive.
  8. The airlines would hand out medicine. Just tell the flight attendant (or, as we called them back then, stewardesses and stewards, the latter of which was a rare sight) you had a headache, and you’d get tiny little packages of Tylenol in return. It stopped sometime in the late 80s, when someone realized the practice was expensive and highly litigious.
  9. You had to call to book a ticket. That’s right: you had to speak to an actual person. Comparing prices required making SEVERAL telephone calls. And then – get this – you’d have to go to the airport to pick up your ticket, or have it mailed to you (really, kids, I’m not making this up). Once, I nearly missed a flight because the airline mailed my ticket late. I finally got it, a few hours before we were supposed to leave. And – wait for it – THIS WAS IN 2005. YEAH.

  10. You could pack whatever the heck you wanted. A friend came to visit me sometime in the late 90s. After he disembarked, he was having trouble undoing his bag, which he’d secured with twine. So he reached into his carry-on and PULLED OUT A THREE-INCH-BLADE WITH WHICH HE CUT THE string. He then stared at his knife and remarked, “It’s kind of weird that they let me travel with that, huh?”

    And, oh, the liquids in our bags were plentiful. Our carry-ons sloshes and splashed with all the  shampoos and lotions and soaps we had in there, in quantities far exceeding 3 ounces.

Sigh. Those were the good old days. When flights included a little plastic pair of aviator wings that would inevitably poke you in the finger. When you could take whatever you wanted on a plane with you.  When you could hoard tiny soaps to your heart’s content.

Don’t leave me floating on a cloud of nostalgia by myself. What memories do you have about flying that would seem absolutely foreign to kids today?

Leave a Comment

  • Hilarious post! I know who River Phoenix was, and I was born in the late 80s, but considering I took my first flight in 2008 (late bloomer, and BAM I move abroad), I don’t know about any of these things, except the one-screen-per-cabin thing.

    Delta does NOT have fancy planes.

    • Actually they do but, only if they are the larger planes. The smaller ones are crap.

  • Emma Poyntz

    I remember vividly when I was about 10 my dad speaking to one of the Stewards on a long haul flight and they allows me to go up into the cockpit where the captain explained how everything worked and how to talk to the air traffic control!

    • Everywhereist

      Rand remembers doing this, too. I never got the chance to visit the cockpit. Sadness.

    • Cam

      Yay! I was five when they last let me do this. The flight wasn’t very busy and apparently I was being adorable and curious, so the stewardesses just walked me over there and let me pester the captain for a good long while. It was AWESOME.

      (And River Phoenix was the first actor I had a crush on ever. I had his poster over my bed. I cried when he died.)

    • Victoria

      I can remember doing this on every long-distance flight. It was so cool. Best part about flying as a kid — that, and the kids’ packs they would give out with playing cards, crayons, and coloring pages all for free.

    • CatCatAttack

      Yeah, but did the Captain ask you if you’d ever been in a Turkish prison?

      • Luis

        Hmmm, weren’t the 80s the years most ripe with hostage takeovers on airplanes? Those damn Libyan guerrilas! It didn’t change how flying went about their business.

        The difference we see today in the friendly skies from back then is the foothold of post 9/11 politics. I’m afraid we’ll never get a change to have an authentic exchange with an airline pilot ever again. Hello Wall-E world.

  • A couple more that might be especially interesting to kids:
    1. Stewardesses would hand out plastic “wings” and packs of playing cards
    2. You could request a visit to the cockpit (even mid-flight)

    • Glory Gray

      I’ll bet the famous Peter Graves scene with little Bobby in “Airplane” makes no sense to kids today.

  • Andrea

    I remember when they’d willingly upgrade you w/ cost or points. Senior year spring break our flight was overbooked and they asked the 3 of us if we’d bump. We explained the importance of this trip and they instead put us in first class. We got shrimp cocktail on real plates w/ metal silverware. Such a great way to start the trip – and there was no charge for any of it.

    Also, remember when you didn’t have to show an ID? I split a ticket w/ a friend (I flew down, she flew back) and it was in her name. No worries or hassle. Sigh.

    • Luis

      I remember the first time I got ID’d. I was overseas when 9/11 happened. When they opened the skies again, I got on the very next flight back to America. They asked for ID other than passports. Thank God I brought my driver’s license!!! I was ID’d at security, then again at the gate, and then again upon boarding the plane! TSA didn’t know what to do! Too bad, that taste of paranoia remains, what a hellish aftertaste!

  • I once carried 8 bottles of wine back from Australia with me in my carry-on and no one batted an eyelash.

    I also remember once upon a time you could actually greet and see people off right at the gate!

    • Cam

      They let me wave my dad off from the tarmac once. 🙂

    • Ruth

      Greeting and seeing people off at the gate is probably what I miss most!

    • Abilu

      I also remember going to the gate and the tarmac to greet my traveler parents. This is a great list!

  • Kristina Cline


  • Andrea

    Oh, also, since I live in Milwaukee, we had a great micro brew my dad in Detroit wanted me to bring back. So I took a case of bottles as my carry on. The pilot left the cockpit door open so we could all watch the sunset, too.

  • Deanna

    Last week I got a crappy mobile device which I fat-finger typo on constantly. ANYWAY, I asked Tom if he thought Maggie could meet the pilot and get little wings. He laughed all the way across the atlantic.

  • Kate

    I remember getting to visit the cockpit too – well, actually, I recall being invited to, but I was too scared to actually go inside, though I think my sister did.

    You know what I miss most, though? The little wing pins for kids. Do they still do those? Those were awesome.

    My dad always talks about how in the early 60’s, as a kid, he got to sit in the “lounge” area in the back of the plane during takeoff. No seat belts or anything. And all the adults were smoking.

  • Colleen

    I remember the crappy food, the ability to wear shoes and jewelry through security, and most definitely paying for headphones. It’s why my parents insisted my sisters and I bring our Walkmans or CD-players on board.

    • Trixi

      Walkmans and CD players! I’m 48, and I think I remember having to use two cans and a string!

      • Colleen

        It was 20 years ago for me, and I will be 29 my birthday. I don’t remember if I brought the Walkman on the plane, or my parents made me play stupid plane games and chew gum. Either way, they weren’t paying for headphones.

  • Oh, Oh, Oh!!! Cockpit doors that were wide open – and you could actually SEE the pilots in there piloting and stuff.
    And the magical-ness of the spiral staircase leading to the upstairs lounge on a shiny new PanAm 747 bound for Sydney or Fiji or Hawaii.
    I could walk up to the cockpit virtually ANY time I wanted, but the upstairs lounge was always totally off-limits to an underage traveler such as myself.

  • I remember saying hi to pilots in the cockpit. In flight. These days I’d get tackled by passengers from the MidWest…

    • Andrea

      Midwest? Please. We say hello to strangers and open doors for each other.

      • rosie-b

        Not if that stranger is brown or wears a head scarf. I speak from experience.

        • Andrea

          First, it’s too bad that you’d had those experiences. But it’s rather ironic that you complain about stereotyping or judging…by stereotyping and judging.

  • Oh yes – those were the days of having your ticket mailed to you ! AND having to carry around the ticket, with the carbon copies, in your money belt in hot humid climates; This meant that the ticket was no longer legible for the flight home and was no more than a smudgy mess. One more to add – I was allowed to visit the pilot in the cockpit – don’t ever ask to do that these days…horror!

  • Derya

    Have you seen the movie Frost/Nixon? Great shot of a stewardess standing behind a full bar with bar stools and everything – and, yes, everyone was smoking.

  • Holy new blog design, batman! I love it! (I usually read your stuff through an RSS reader)

    Also, I remember those things too. I also remember people dressing nicely to fly (not dressing fancy, but not looking like a slob in PJ pants and flip flops), though I suspect that part of what has made that go away is that we now have to practically get undressed to get through security.

    • Abilu

      I have a friend who refuses to wear lounge wear on a flight out of principle (and nostalgia).

  • The airline employees were super nice, especially if you were a kid flying alone, which I often did starting at age three. The pilot always came back to visit and hand out plastic wings, and I think we also got little plastic bags of travel toys. All meals came with dishes and utensils, and everyone dressed well. There were far fewer people, too (apparently this was in the Pliestocene epoch).

    Also, River. :::sigh:::

  • Manuela

    Each time I fly from South Africa to Europe (and back) we get blankets and pillows. If you’re lucky and the flight is not fully booked you can even take all the pillows and blankets from the unoccupied seats and you can almost sleep somewhat comfortably!

  • The smoking section! I remembered that recently and wondered yet again who thought that was a good idea. I will keep taking my shoes off if it means I don’t have to be trapped in cloud of second-hand smoke for 8 hours. I also remember spending many hours of my childhood at the local AA office, where my parents knew all the employees well.

    Remember how you used to be able to go to the gate even if you weren’t flying?

  • Cam

    The one different memory I have, though this may be singular to the Soviet Bloc, was that you had to ask for a sick bag if you needed one. My baby brother didn’t do well flying, but was terrible at asking in time. :/

  • I remember those days. Travel agents were “THE MAN” (or WOMAN) in those days! I don’t even remember airfares back then – that would be a good comparison to now. I remember taking the toiletries from a hotel and then having some of them explode in my bag. Ah the joys of traveling in the 80s.

    On a flight back from Frankfurt (and this was in the mid 90s) I had to sit in the smoking section on the plane because the non smoking section was full. I hated it. However, I was so tired I just went to sleep anyways.

  • Karen

    I remember getting the plastic wings! My brother got pilot wings and I got stewardess wings because, you know, “girls” weren’t ever going to be pilots!

  • Petra

    I experienced travelling in the 80’s and you are absolutely right! Only one thing – I loved that food in the planes (perhaps the catering in Europe was better? ;-).

    One further memory: After the plane landed at the destination airport the people in the plane clapped their hands. Like it was something special that the brave captain blessed us with the ground. I found that silly clapping useless all the time. And – I have to confess – sometimes people who rarely fly still to that nowadays. But in the 80’s clapping was “in”.

    • Rick

      You obviously have never flown TACA. (Take A Chance Airline) They must teach the pilots that landing a plane is just like dropping a brick on the ground. I have never experienced landings as bad on any other airline. On the same flight, while over the Gulf of Mexico, we had about ten seconds of turbulence that had everyone thinking the plane was going down. No warning like you normally hear, but right before it happened, all the flight attendants scurried to their seats. Needless to say, there was almost a standing O when we landed. I headed straight to the bar to get something to calm my nerves!

    • CatCatAttack

      The clapping seems to be much more prevalent on European flights. It seems polite.

      • Luis

        I don’t think USA ever clapped, not in the 80s that I recall, you must have been on a flight full of non-citizens. True I see Europeans and South Americans clap all the time, even today.

  • I have many vintage airline playing cards from back in the day. I don’t think they hand out wings anymore. But 6 years ago, they did hand my preschooler a badge pin which I for some reason stuck in my back pocket. It triggered the Metal Detector, and my BABY and I got pulled aside. Nothing like having your 4 month old inspected for deadly weapons. I just flew out of Borneo last month. All the men were automatically patted down but the women could just breeze through the old school detector without a good feel up.

  • First, hilarious post! I love reading your blog because I just never know when little gems like “Seriously, economy class looked like a harem” are going to pop up and cause me to spew something on my screen!

    My dad used to tell me about flying in the 60’s when they would hold little contests. The pilot would ask a tricky question like given the cruising speed and the head wind, what was the estimated time the plane would be flying over such-n-such a city? The prizes were usually a bottle of booze!

    My own memory is of our trip to Hawaii in 1992. We flew to Oahu, but then island hopped using Hawaiian Air. Our plane ticket was just written in PENCIL on a blank ticket form, and the locals that were island hopping had loose live chickens held in their arms!

  • Jess at Distant Mountain Trips

    Some airlines still give out wings. My son has two sets from, not surprisingly, Southwest Airlines. They also gave him a coloring book and crayons.

    I remember flying coach on Air New Zealand in the late 80’s and getting poached pears covered in chocolate for desert, so I suspect the badness of the food varied. The pears were delicious.

  • Pollyanna

    In 1983 my in-laws were snowed in and missed our wedding so we rearranged our honeymoon to include a few days with them. We saved the top of our wedding cake in a big cardboard box and carried it on the plane with us so we could share it with them. The “stewardesses” were wonderful, found a place to stash it safely until we landed.

    The other thing I miss is being able to walk people to the gate, hug them just before they get on the plane and stand watching until the plane is out of sight.

  • Christopher D

    I remember actually sitting with my sister while waiting for her to board a flight that I was not going on, other family members as well. We’d park, go in, whoever was traveling would check-in, and we’d all go through the metal detectors and hang-out in the waiting area.

  • Jennie

    Remember when they first started issuing e-tickets for air travel? It was a big deal because if you were only taking a carry on bag, you could skip the check in counter at the front of the airport, go right through security with no boarding pass or ID (because ANYONE could go through security to the gates, not just traveling passengers) and then wait in line at the gate counter for them to print your boarding pass.

  • Love this! I lived in Saudi Arabia during the 80s, and we flew all over the US and Europe. I will never forget the KLM erasers, the little stuffed bears they gave kids, and coloring/activity bids! Oh! And my parents loved that the awardees would watch us kids during the flight. Thru played with us, entertained us! Gone are those days!

  • Kevin

    Security? Fond memory: having to run to get on a flight in LAX after customs had their fun with me (teen with backpack…). No time for baggage check, so the stew simply rolled her eyes at the sword lashed to my pack, and tossed everything into the cockpit. OK, this was ’71, but hey.

    Jets? I remember those big silver birds with these funny rotating metal things on the engines. Kinda like a boat propeller …

  • You could arrive minutes before you plane took off and still get on.

  • Kristen

    In the 90s on a geology class field trip returning from Washington state, we convinced the agent to let us bring a pointed tip rock hammer (basically a small pick ax) aboard since we forgot to put it in checked luggage because it was an educational tool.

  • Gal

    The first time I flew was in 1976 or so, and you chose your meal from a menu!! And it was served on real dishes. I had the chicken. Still have it. The menu not the chicken.

  • My father-in-law recently told me about his first flight to the States from Japan in the ’50s. It required two stops along the way, but the plane had a full bar, with windows, down below where you could sit, have a drink and enjoy the view.

    Also, that Delta Airlines high-cheekboned “what to do right before you die” video lady always struck me as a little creepy. At first you think she’s pretty and then you keep looking at her…

    And that shot of the Santa Barbara airport is making me all homesick.

  • Dara

    I remember:
    – being able to go to the gate to greet a loved one, or wave goodbye.
    – flying from VA to NYC on People Express for $30.
    – when you didn’t have to show up 3 hours early to get through the lines and security.
    – feeling like I was embarking on an adventure instead of enduring something tedious.
    – being treated like a paying customer as opposed to potential criminal &/or PITA.

    • Skippy

      OMGosh Dara I was hoping someone remembered People Express too and those cheap fairs and scary rides [to Ohio from VA for me] and they weren’t just a figment of my imagination. They had the best flight attendants – it was always a lot of fun, especially the midnight flights out of Dulles with all the drunken business men who had missed their earlier flights while hanging out in the airport bar. They still found them a seat [not that they ever sat down] and they didn’t kick them off for being boisterous drunkards.

      Oh, those were the days.

  • Shannon

    I remember sitting in the smoking section as a kid while all the men around me were getting quite drunk off of mini bottles of alcohol they just handed out for free. I miss seeing people off at the gate, and pickin them up there too. I also, got to go to the cockpit and get plastic wings. Fun post, thanks!

  • Ha! I love this.

    Not quite the the 80s but because we were too cheap to buy the earphones to see Selena on one of our flights, my Dad pieced together drinking straws to create our own little speakers. They actually worked!

  • My parents, who fly regularly, still use and know personally their local Travel Agent. Yes, a real person – not a website. I think it’s cool!

  • Mrspchong

    The captain used to happily fill in our ‘flying log books’ – they don’t have that anymore.

    my 6yo finds travelling on budget airlines unbelievable compared to regular airlines! ( a mega culture shock to him)

  • Wonderful. Especially the $3 headphones/lip-reading and “STOP TALKING” regarding the “Is he related to Joaquin?” bit. Of note regarding the smoking, especially for you and the commenter: I learned from a travel show that since all flights became non-smoking, the air ventilation-circulation standards were lessened, so you could actually be breathing worse air now. Before, it was ventilated out and filtered better before being re-circulated. Food for thought!

  • Dan

    In early 2001, I watched the TSA let my sister on an international flight with a steak knife in her fanny pack. They literally took the knife out of her bag, examined it, and said it was fine. Seven years later, the on a return flight from Newark, the TSA discoverd the Swiss Army Knife that I had forgotten in a small pocket of my carry-on (and had somehow slipped through security in Seattle). The knife was given to me by my sister on my 21st birthday, and had my initials engraved in the blade. There was no time to check the bad, so the TSA made me throw the knife in their trash bin. I almost cried.

    • Fanny pack! I love it! But sorry about your knife 🙁
      I had to throw away one of my favorite chap sticks once because I didn’t have a plastic bag to put it in (never mind that it would be securely in my purse anyway…). I almost cried out of frustration with the whole process!

  • Trix

    The Concorde!

  • Trixi

    What bothers me is that there are still ashtrays in some planes. Like, how old are these flying hunks of metal?

    • jdk911

      They have to have them in the lavatories in case someone smokes illegally

  • renee

    I started flying in 1976 as a teen. Seems it took me less time to get to the Philippines as it did last week to come from Thailand to the States. Everything has changed and I find it all less fun. But I do not miss the smokers. Since I flew so often, it use to totally upset me. Meals have greatly improved but now that I have discovered I am celiac and cannot eat GLUTEN, the meals remind me of meals in the 70s, awful! Sometimes I don’t order the special meal just cause I can’t take it! What I hate most now are the body scanners, rude employees in most American airports and everyone dresses like they are going jogging. Ok, not everyone. We use to wear our finest to fly. I remember my 70s outfit: bell bottom pants, wedgies (shoes, now back in style), super cute and sexy top, with a short cut by Vidal Sasson-trained hair stylist. I thought I was at the top of the trends, but my seat mate asked me if I was a boy or a girl! Flying around the world more times than I care to remember, I would have to say I am one of those expert fliers but I would give anything for a pre-9/11 flight or a pre 2000 flight, even if I had to get my ticket in the mail.

  • Amanda

    I am so sorry to hear about that awful peach! The photo of the meal you had looked pretty decent, though, so at least you’ll probably never come across something that horrific for the rest of your travels (hopefully!). I remember SO vividly the pillows and blankets! Man those were the days….but I think they still have them on international flights, don’t they? I know we had them on the last overseas flight I took. I couldn’t imagine traveling that far without them!

  • The best movie for reminiscing about old times on the airlines is, of course, Airplane.

    I do have my own story – when I was 14, I flew from PA to TN to visit my best friend and I was afraid I’d miss my connection. So my parents arranged for me to have an airline employee escort me to my connecting flight. The entire trip, I had to wear a giant red and white striped button that said “I NEED ASSISTANCE.” Indeed I did 🙁

  • Gong

    Great read! I am a 90’s baby and didn’t know that airline travel back in the 80’s would be so different from today. I still hate traveling by air though because the airline companies be overcharging for everything.

  • When I flew to London by myself when I was 12 (in 1998) my family (mom, dad, and sister, none of whom were traveling) all accompanied me through security and waited at the gate with me until my flight left.

    Oh, the pre-9/11 days!

  • Beth

    So true!

    You were actually allowed to tour the cockpit. I was five and my Snoopy was dressed up as a pilot and they let me go into the cockpit and meet the pilots. It was great.

  • Dawn Shepard

    Flying Stand-By. This was not the kiss of death, as it is now, it was a way to fly cheap by just showing up to the airport and waiting for a seat on the plane. I first heard about it from my Mom’s friend who always flew that way. It sounded so adventurous. They don’t do really do it anymore and I never got to fly that way.

  • I remember when smoking was allowed everywhere on international flights, and specifically to Japan well into the 90’s. I remember those 9 hours in hell and all my stuff smelling like tar and nicotine as a child. I try to console myself with those memories every time I have to sit next to a large, sweaty old man, or the teen hippie on her way back from Thailand.

  • What about the days of REAL cutlery?? back in the day, we managed to nick a few Qantas knives which are still floating about in the cutlery drawer. Now you’re lucky to get through a meal without snapping that bloody flimsy plastic fork.

    Here in Australia, you are able to be at the gate to greet/farewell passengers – you just have to pass through security to do so.

  • The thing that I miss the most is not being able to listen to music while the plane is taking off or landing – if I was able to do it back in the 90s why is it impossible now? I just don’t get it especially since we know that half the people on the plane forgot to turn off their iphones anyway…I am convinced this is just a conspiracy ploy to prevent us from listening to inspirational songs as we leave our family/country behind (I will survive?)

  • My memory is definitely the clapping when the plane was landed safely. Used to happen in the Cinema too in the 80’s, the lights would dim and the audience would start to applaud.

    Much more appreciative in the 80s.

  • CatCatAttack

    In 2000 while on vacation, someone gave us a set of barbeque tools in a handy plastic toolcase. My hubs and I looked inside and thought everything was cool (fork with 4 inch tines, brush, skewers, very long spatula). I believe we were even making jokes about threatening someone with the fork. After the x-ray a man appeared (magically!) at our side and wanted to look inside. Turned out the “spatula” was a 2 foot long knife with a 4 inch blade. (The cardboard cover on the blade fooled us.) So airport security TAPED the toolcase closed and we were able to proceed with it as carry-on.
    Don’t worry, the TAPE will protect you.
    Now we know better than to think about a pair of nail scissors, and dear heaven we don’t make jokes about anything within the airport. ANYTHING!

  • Peanuts. I miss those wee packets of peanuts they used to hand out for a snack. And getting the ENTIRE CAN of coke, instead of just some dribbles in a plastic cup full of giant ice cubes.

    Also, not only could we smoke on the plane, we could buy cartons of cigarettes from the in-flight duty free shop.

    The thing I miss the most, however, is leg room. I used to be able to sit comfortably throughout a flight, but now I’m squished in with my knees rubbing the seat in front of me (I’m only 5’5″!). Heaven forbid if the person in front lowers their seat back, then I’ll be resting me boobs on their forehead.

    • Diane

      I agree – leg room.

      • Maureen Gottschalk


  • marsha

    The reason Rand got to visit the cockpit as a child and you didn’t…he was a boy, who could possibly be a pilot one day. We girls could only dream of being stewardesses!

  • I remember when Virgin had a policy in the late 80s/ early 90s that they would bring you as much alcohol as you wanted at any time during the flight. I made friends with the girl sitting next to me and as 16 year olds flying from Gatwick to Newark , we called the waitress and said, ‘we are going to save you some time… just bring us a tray of 8 vodkas and 5 orange juices.’ She did – needless to say it was interesting when we actually had to stand up to get off the flight…

    Oh yeah – and that wasn’t food they were serving… It was like garbage mash in car oil.

  • Sometime in the late 90s my mom was told she couldn’t bring 12 oz of nail polish remover on a plane. The nail polish remover limit was 10 oz. She had to dump 2 oz out in a nearby water fountain. Three years later, I carried a sword back from Toledo, Spain. It used to be inconsistent how they decided you were a criminal. Now, we are all criminals.

    • Stevo

      still inconsistent though.

  • Glory Gray

    I remember the fat stacks the STEWARDESSES pulled out of their little cash pouches to give change to those buying the earphones.(Yes! Stewardesses! Before they were called flight attendants! Did we call the males ‘stewards?’ I don’t remember.) “As always, exact change is appreciated,” the head attendant would announce over the speaker.

  • Glory Gray

    Wait, one more I just thought of…you used to be able to listen to the pilots talk to the control tower on one of the radio channels. Yeah, that probably wasn’t such a good idea.

  • Alexa

    This is pre 9/11 days too but I remember in high school we’d head to Sea-Tac to play late night “Airport Games” which really meant commandeering wheel chairs and racing around the terminals 🙂

  • In regards to #10, yesterday my husband was flying home and almost missed his flight because of pocket knife in his camera bag. He’s a photographer and travels a bunch for shoots. He’d been given the pocket knife as a gift on a shoot in December, put it in his camera bag and completely forgot about it. That pocket knife has been around the world with him since, Amsterdam, Nairobi, Kisumu, Puerta Vallarta, multiple trips to LA, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Houston and probably a few more places I’m forgetting.

    So Salt Lake City wins the prize for most diligent TSA. The agent forced him to “surrender his contraband” and proceeded to take everything out and scan the bag 5 more times. Needless to say, he didn’t tell the guy he’d been flying with it for months.

  • LOVED this post! Absolutely brilliant.

    It boggles my mind that you used to be able to go through security and just basically hang out in the airport even if you didn’t have a ticket. I vividly remember going to the airport on a youth group video scavenger hunt just for fun – four or five crazy tween girls and their college aged “leader” running through the airport wreaking havoc.

    Remember when we went to pick up that kid you took to prom? We took like four cars of people with us.

  • Ellen

    Flying used to be so much more fun! I remember schlepping bottles of vodka back from Russia in a carryon when I was underage and no one ever noticed.

    And the River Phoenix comment, sigh. I had an experience driving in a car with a friend’s younger brother. Nirvana came on the radio and he exclaimed, “awesome! classic rock!” And he meant it not in a “this is classic” kind of way, but in a “hey, maybe paint it black will come on next” kind of way. We kind of wanted to weep.

  • Bahahaha! Great post.

    In 2001 I unwrapped my in flight meal to reveal neon green chicken. I seemed to be the only person who thought said chicken didn’t look appetizing. Ugh.

    I miss the days when we could bring as many liquids as we wanted. Not to mention as many carry ons and we could carry on! I once carried on two large baskets. Yes, baskets. Remember when people would carry on their wedding dresses or skies?

    Oh, the days when we could stay dressed. I was asked once to remove my shirt. I told them no because it was my shirt. They told me it was too baggy and needed to be removed. Well now…I’ll make a scene then…

    I miss the good ‘ol days!

  • Stephanie

    Airplane food wasn’t bad! You’re too kind! (On Middle Eastern Flights) Breakfast was just…scrambled eggs (unseasoned ofcourse), topped with 2 boiled chicken sausages and a generously soggy hash brown ( I mean, who really wants to eat something freshly prepared on a flight?), all of this beautiful goodness squished into one teeny tiny box. I think, once I even fainted into my “breakfast special” because of the smell 😐 *shudder* – Oh if anyone cares for more info – We were provided with a steaming cup of watery coffee, and a cold dinner roll with butter.

    Oh, how i miss me some tiny soaps 🙁 I think Emirates carried them till the early 2000s..

  • Okay this will really age me but I kept scrolling down your post to see where (of course you would have it I kept thinking) the funnest thing of all was listed.
    The contest –how long will it take to get to where we are going? We had to determine the exact time of our arrival by the mileage and current time that the pilot announced over the speakers. In those days you could actually hear the announcements rather than now where pilot announcements sound a little like a call to prayer in Marakkesh. But that’s another story.
    My father who was a genius, still is, usually won the contest. We had no shortage of playing cards with American Airlines or Pan Am logos on them.
    thanks for the memories. I will be posting plenty about the horrifically long flights to Africa that I take a couple of times per year for my blog AfricaInside.org

    • Maureen Gottschalk

      oh yes, they gave you packs of cards, blankets, pillows…no more

  • Abilu

    I also remember when you didn’t need a passport to visit Canada or Mexico.

  • Trolleira

    Oh, oh do you remember? We got real silverware to eat with, with real knifes!!! Sometimes in silver, indeed!
    So loved your blog!

  • My parents meeting me at the gate when I arrived home from my study abroad. Sure, you had to go through security, but at least your family was right there when you arrived. I miss that.

  • Emily

    I didn’t fly much as a kid, but my dad traveled a lot for work. I remember dropping him off and picking him up AT THE GATE. Watching him come down the jetway into the terminal after a long trip was always so exciting. He says it was a great memory for him too. Airport pickup is not nearly as much fun now – standing around near baggage claim, wondering if your loved one got held up in customs, sucks.

  • Okay, not an actual commercial flight, but something to mention anyway! We had chartered commercial planes that took our unit to Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War and back again. Our trip over was on something called Sun Country. The color scheme was reminiscent of a giant orange juice carton. Our trip back was on Pan Am.

    What was remarkable was that every passenger on those planes was armed with an M-16 or a 9mm pistol. The ammo was in cargo, but still, how weird. On a military plane, one expects this. on a commercial plane, it’s… weird.

    Arriving at JFK Airport in NYC, I was one of three troops who got to sit in the jump seats in the cockpit and watch the landing. Even then, in 1991, this would never have been allowed on a regular commercial flight. Awesome first view of US soil on our return!

    • Everywhereist

      I have always wondered what sitting in a jump seat would be like. Also, glad you made it back safe and sound. 🙂

      • Ha, not for lack of trying not to! We had missed the runway in Rome, the plane was damaged and we had to wait some seven hours to get a replacement plane, then transfer all the baggage ourselves. It was thankfully uneventful after that, and the cockpit view of the (successful!) landing at JFK was a treat.

  • Getting to sit – on the pilots lap – during flight – while visiting the cabin. OMG’s the amount of things wrong with that today!! IT was awesome – then I got a little pilot hat and my wings. Damn that was fun! I even once got to give the announcement FOR LANDING on the p.a.

    I KID YOU NOT. Air France circa 1978.

    • I meant cockpit not cabin … why does that STILL sound dirty in my 40’s?

  • 3rdof6

    What about DRESSING UP!?!? I remember specifically having to wear my nicest outfits. Now, people look like scum.

    • Trey

      Both of my sons work at the local airport. My youngest told me about a young lady who flew internationally in pajamas and walked around with no shoes (just socks). As a former business traveler, my company’s policy is to travel in professional attire.

  • Cathie Glanz

    Yep, I flew to Hong Kong with my family for a holiday when I was 16 in 1981 and the Air Hostess (as they were called) arranged for me and my brother to visit the cockpit and see how the plane flew and talk with the captain etc. One of them joked that he got his pilot’s licence in a Corn Flakes packet!!!

  • Cathie Glanz

    Another one! We went overseas to Singapore, Hong Kong and I flew to Europe in the early 80’s. It was a tradition in Perth, Western Australia, to clap when the pilot landed. That’s right the whole plane politely clapped upon landing. I’m not sure now whether it was a polite clap to say “thankyou” for a smooth landing OR a polite clap sprinkled with relief that we hadn’t crashed! Did anywhere else in the world practise this? Perth IS the most isolated city in the world and some of our traditions date back a bit. In this case I think clapping upon landing may have been practised in the 1950’s when commercial flying was just taking off.

  • My mom loves to the story of flying to Alaska in the 50’s and the plane had a grand piano tied with a rope in the front of the plane along with other furniture. Seats were removed to accommodate these things with the passengers sitting behind them.

  • Mike

    As for the clapping, it was common when landing in San Juan, at least as late as 1991. We used to get confronted by “Moonies” or similar groups in the airports. They were really persistant, and sometimes it took a hip-check or an elbow to get away, just like in the movie Airplane. There were pay phones in the airport—not cells, laptops, iPads, etc., and if you were lucky, you had a calling card to use. I never got carded when buying a beer a year or two before I was legal, and I did not look old for my age (what happened since is another story, lol). The cabin was usually like a smoke-filled bar room, and the plane smelled like old socks upon boarding, as a result of the alcohol and nicotine. The flight attendants (sorry, “stews”) smoked too when taking breaks in their areas, like the rear jump seats, and sometimes someone from the cockpit flight crew would join them. Airlines overbooked, but you could make several reservations in all sorts of names, and decide later how many you wanted to pay for. The names did not matter to anyone. The planes of the day, e.g. 707 and 727, were much noisier but also faster- more wing sweepback, and there were less flying regulations. A pilot running behind could really floor it to compensate. I remember 1 hr. 20 min. airtime from O’Hare to Newark in the mid-80’s on a late night 747, and that included at least 15-20 minutes of getting into position and making the turns for Neward arrival. I also remember choosing seat from a big chart at the gate. You could request 10A if it were available, and they would place the seat assignment sticker on your ticket envelope. Even if you were not flying, you could get on a plane sitting at the gate, talk with the pilot, and explore the cabin. Interior color schemes were wild in the 60’s and 70’s. Purple, orange, brown— mathched by shag like upholstery and carpet in some cases, and of course fake woodgrain on every imaginable surface.

  • Chirose23

    Oh my gosh.! This post made me laugh so hard.! Thank you.!!! In 1989, after visiting with my parents, they gave me a tv to take back to L.A. with me. Old school 15″ screen must have weight 50 pounds without a box. Just me lugging the tv through the airport. Along with my luggage, I took it on the airplane as a carry on. The flight attendant just put it in the first class closet (even though I was in coach) and that was the end of that. I can’t even imagine making it past check in now let alone security.!! Lol 🙂

    • Terry

      I remember seeing TV’s back then coming down the luggage conveyor and thinking.. why did they buy a TV on vacation. It was done often enough that I remember it. Thanks for bringing back that ole memory.

  • Terry

    In the mid 70’s I started visiting family in the UK. From Denver your family would walk with you and hug you goodbye at the gate. Domestic service was as you point out. I can remember playing cards if you asked for them. There was a menu, where you could choose between 3 not bad international flight dinners. There was lunch and a continental breakfast too. This was in coach and I did enjoy the smoking section back in the day. However, even this far back, family could not welcome you at the gate in the UK which seemed strange (now it doesn’t) they were obviously more cautious with security long before us. You went through several security checks on your return trough Heathrow sometimes once more before you boarded the plane. You left people in the hall before you went through departures. I remember packages with sleep blindfolds, a pillow, blanket and cheap but usable slippers a inexpensive toothbrush and packet of toothpaste (kinda
    tough to get shoes back on after wearing those). If you did ring for the stewardess (don’t remember stewards for some time yet) they were all extremely friendly… (the customer service was more in keeping you pleased than it was strictly security). People have mentioned many other things from the past.. I just really liked flying back into Denver Stapleton and having my family meet me at the gate like I’d been gone for years. Fun reading everyone’s memories.

    • Terry

      …oh I forgot, anyone remember pushing the Hare Krishna’s away while they were trying to pin a flower on you . And, if you did fly international, you would buy extra bags for the haul of stuff and gifts you brought back with you no additional charge. This wasn’t even the hey day of flying. But then so few did. Some of my 1980 tickets cost the same today if you find a really great deal. So it was more expensive back in the day even with APEX fares. I haven’t flown much but domestic here and there since 9/11. It’s a royal pain in the derriere.

      • James Wood

        Bravo! Almost forgot about the Hare Krishnas and the “Moonies.” A definite fixture of airports in the 80s.

  • James Wood

    What a treasure chest! For months I’ve been searching for this kind of information. With flawed memory, I’m writing a story with a scene at San Francisco International in the 80s. I’m acrophobic (fear of heights) and used to be afraid of flying (no more, now like it). Million years ago, in 1954, Army flew me in a two-propeller Douglas DC-3 with bench seats along each side of the fuselage. First time in a plane, too nervous to figure out the seat belt. An older man in a business suit, sitting next to me, reached over and did it for me. Then smiled, shook hands, and introduced himself, “I’m Donald Douglas, pleased to meet you.” I gasped, but immediately figured, I’m flying with the man who built these planes, This plane has to be totally safe! A movie stunt man told me he had a fear of flying. WHAT?!! Every time he leaps out of a 5th-story window, he said, he is in complete control of the action, after hours of meticulous planning. In a commercial plane he feels helpless, not in control, everything is up to another person — the pilot. I do remember when pilots came out and spoke to passengers. One time a real joker captain stepped out and asked if anyone had a manual how to fly this plane.

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