Infographic: The State of Air Travel Over the Last 60 Years

Travel News — By Alex Resnik on March 26, 2011 at 6:30 am

We’ve all heard it before: flying used to be more comfortable, glamorous, easier, sexier, better for your health, guaranteed to wash away those Monday blues, and generally made you a better person.

Those who talk about the “good old days” of flying refer to gourmet meals on fine china in the sky, obsequious flight attendants who catered to the passenger’s every whim, and seats the size of a ’57 Chevy’s throughout coach.

They bemoan today’s rubbery chicken, the herding of passengers into minuscule mile-high pens, and most of all, the tragic loss of a certain glamor — supposedly a je ne sais quois that reminded us that we, unlike our fellow man, had achieved the miracle of flight.

Always interested in the history of travel, we looked at five factors we consider crucial for rating the state of air travel yesterday and today — leg room, fare, “load factor,” safety, and cost — and presented our findings in easy-to-swallow infographic form.

Our findings? Well, as you can see from the professional infographic above, leg room has indeed shrunk, but not by as much as some claim. It’s also important to keep in mind that many airlines today offer “Economy Plus” seating that brings back the expansive seating of yesteryear, albeit at a price.

Let’s move on to the fare…

So yes, the gourmet offerings are gone, at least in coach. However, with the demise of the in-flight meal comes more freedom to make healthy and budget-friendly decisions: pack yourself a picnic at home or buy something at increasingly well stocked airport markets.

Next, “load factor” is an airline industry term that refers to how many seats on a given flight are filled. Airlines are getting better at filling flights: average load factor has nearly doubled over the last 40 years.

What does this mean for you? Less of a chance of scoring that seat without any neighbors (a crucial point of comfort), and more of a chance of sitting next to a stranger.

Finally, let’s look at the safety of flights compared to how much we’re paying. Adjusting for inflation, we’re paying about a quarter of the price we were 60 years ago for our flights, and there’s a marked decline in the chance that we will die on said flights.

Data courtesy:

There’s no argument that, as airlines continue to become more like buses in the sky than five-star restaurant/hotels, the glamor of the whole experience will continue to wash away. But hey, more of us are flying than ever, and if you really can’t give up the perks (and the cost) of a time gone by, there’s always first class.

Tags: airlines, infographic, travel

    1 Comment

  • David Belden says:

    While there is less legroom and terrible food these days, the airlines did do away with smoking, which is fantastic. Even at 6’4″ I’d rather have a cramped seat with no smoke than 39″ of legroom and smoke in the cabin.


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