Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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 and

More From Matt Novak

Tags: ,

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

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

Follow us

Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

To Make Friends, Autistic Kids Need Advice—and Space

Kids with autism need help when it comes to making friends—but they also need their independence.

Gaming the Wedding Gift Registry System

Registering for your wedding? Keep your must-have items away from the average price of your registry—they’re unlikely to be purchased.

Smokey Can’t Save Us: Wildfires Are Out of Control

New research shows how rapidly fire dangers are rising in the American West. The results could help governments plan ahead for the flames.

Banning Chocolate Milk Was a Bad Choice

The costs of banning America's favorite kids drink from schools may outweigh the benefits, a new study suggests.

In Battle Against Climate Change, Cities Are Left All Alone

Cities must play a critical role in shifting the world to a fossil fuel-free future. So why won't anybody help them?

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014