Menus Subscribe Search
airtravel

Visions of Futuristic Air Travel (And Plenty of Leg Room!) in 1946

• March 12, 2013 • 4:00 AM

The vision of post-war air travel isn’t all that different from what well-heeled fliers can get today, but what a long, strange trip it’s been.

An illustration of air travel in the future from the September 1946 issue of Popular Science [Source: Novak Archive]

An illustration of air travel in the future from the September 1946 issue of Popular Science [Source: Novak Archive]

 

Before the American airline industry had really taken off, there were many predictions about what pent-up consumer demand following WWII would mean. The September 1946 issue of Popular Science imagined what air travel might look like just five years into the future. The cover proclaimed that “Air Travel for Everybody” was just over the horizon!

Cover of the September 1946 issue of Popular Science magazine [Source: Novak Archive]

Cover of the September 1946 issue of Popular Science magazine [Source: Novak Archive]

From Popular Science:

By 1951, air transports and the airline pattern itself, both domestic and intercontinental, will confound the most extravagant predictions of the men who were nursing a few scrawny air lines to maturity in 1931.

The article made historical comparisons to the railroads, as it was the intercontinental railroad reaching further and further west that opened up the United States and built the backbone of the country we know today.

But for all the planning that is under way, the growth and character of air-line service are bound to be somewhat hodgepodge for the next few years. The carriers themselves are guessing at exactly what’s coming. They are in the midst of a tepid re-enactment of the railroads’ expansion three-quarters of a century ago. It is a tepid performance because the air lines are rigidly—some critics say too rigidly—controlled by the Government.

And that government regulation was debated from the beginning. As Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic explained recently, the price of air travel in the United States has fallen sharply since deregulation in the 1970s. Price and the efficiency of their planes was, of course, the most pressing concern of the airlines after WWII, as Popular Science noted:

One thing is certain: Faster, more efficient planes are coming. They will go farther on a gallon of gas, and that means lower fares. One manufacturer already is talking about the possibility of New York-to-San Francisco flights in less than eight hours for as little as $86. That compares with $118.30, tax extra, at present. The Pullman fare for the same trip is $127.13 (or 4.01 cents a mile); that by rail coach, $63.12; by bus, $45.25.

New York to San Francisco in eight hours for $118.30? Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1,375 in 2013 dollars.

But while prices came down dramatically, the amenities of the average passenger have become decidedly less posh. The illustration above imagined the experience of the average airline passenger in the early 1950s. “More personal comfort” was the focus, with extra-wide windows, electronic entertainment and perhaps the amenity I miss most: extra leg room. Of course, that image isn’t at odds with what is available on long-haul flights today—if you’re willing to pay.

Photo of a "roomy table" from the airplane of the future [Source: Novak Archive]

Photo of a “roomy table” from the airplane of the future [Source: Novak Archive]

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

More From Matt Novak

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


July 24 • 2:00 PM

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.


July 24 • 12:00 PM

What’s in a Name? The Problem With Washington’s Football Team

A senior advisor to the National Congress of American Indians once threw an embarrassing themed party that involved headdresses. He regrets that costume now, but knows his experience is one many others can relate to.


July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.



July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.