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From Smoking To Streaming: How Airline Service Has Changed Over Time

From Smoking To Streaming: How Airline Service Has Changed Over Time

Since the first commercial flight took place in 1914, airline services have changed so much over the decades. Every year, hundreds of millions of people travel domestically and internationally by air compared to 450,000 passengers in the 1930s. So, naturally, there have been some changes. Let’s take a look at how airline service has changed over time!


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Smoking while on a flight used to be perfectly legal. So much so, that airlines offered their customers ashtrays and matchbooks. During the 1980s, US airlines started to ban smoking on domestic flights, and other countries then started to follow suit. By the 2000s, this was a common policy with airlines across the world (with a few exceptions).

In-flight movies

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In the 1950s the idea of in-flight movies came about. A movie projector was set up for entertainment and although popular, this didn’t take off until the 1960s. Today, many airlines (especially those with long-haul flights) offer a screen in front of your seat, where you’ll have a wide variety of movies to choose from.

Low-cost airlines

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Until the 1940s, generally, only the wealthy and business people could afford to fly. This started to change in the 1950s, with more people being able to afford flights. Passenger numbers only increased, as more low-cost airlines were introduced such as Pacific Southwest Airlines, People Express Airlines, and Ryanair.

Unpressurized cabins

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Interestingly enough, airplane cabins were unpressurized until the 1940s/50s. This meant that planes had to fly at a relatively low altitude and people often got sick. The Boeing 307 was the first model to feature a pressurized cabin, allowing it to fly at around 20,000 feet. This became a widespread practice within the decade.


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In the early days of flying (the 1920s to 1941), cabin noise was a huge issue when it came to early airlines. Staff often had to use a megaphone to communicate with passengers above the wind and engine noise. Nowadays, you don’t have to deal with loud noises and communication issues due to improvements in aviation.

Airport security

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Although no one knew it at the time, the events of 9/11 would change commercial aviation forever. Airport security became significantly stricter all across the world. One main change was that a boarding pass was now required to get through security, so families could no longer see their loved ones off at the gate.

Heightened cockpit security

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9/11 led to heightened cockpit security, as well as airport security. In the past, passengers were allowed to visit the cockpit and see behind the scenes. After 2001, advanced locking systems were put in place. Only the pilot could then control who entered, with the cabin crew needing their permission to access the cockpit.

Flight Capacity

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At the start of commercial flying, very few passengers were able to fly at the same time. Planes had a low capacity, which is partly why tickets were so expensive. Early jet engines could then carry up to 60 passengers. In comparison, the Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner today and has a capacity of 853 people (across its two decks).

Accessible to all

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Thanks to the introduction of low-cost airlines and larger planes, flying became more accessible. It was no longer just an option for the wealthy, with more people in the United States traveling by air than by train in 1955. Nowadays, there are over 5,000 airlines to choose from so you’ve got plenty of options.

Female flight attendants and pilots

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Originally, all flight attendants and pilots for commercial aviation were male. The first female flight attendant was employed in 1930, and a few years later, the majority of these jobs went to females. It wasn’t until 1969, that Turi Widerøe, an airline pilot was employed by a major airline. She paved the way for future female pilots, especially those in the 1970s.

In-flight WiFi

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Today, it’s common practice for airlines to offer in-flight Wi-Fi, either for free or as part of a package. This allows passengers to stay connected with family, watch streaming services, and even work while on the go. However, in-flight WiFi only came about in the 2000s so it’s a relatively new airline service.

Lunch services

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As commercial flights were tailored towards wealthy individuals early on, lunch services looked very different than they do today. During the 1960s, lunch was a grand affair, where passengers could enjoy multiple courses, sometimes including steak and lobster. Today, meals are pre-packaged and there are several options to choose from.

Temperature checks and vaccine passports

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Although this is no longer the case, the COVID pandemic caused a huge change in aviation. After lockdowns ended and international flights started to increase again, temperature checks were required at the airport. Other protocols included vaccine passports and mandatory face coverings. Today, there are fewer restrictions in place.

Aiming to have carbon-neutral travel

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There’s no denying that the increase in international and domestic travel has had a huge impact on the planet. Emissions from aviation are a significator factor when it comes to climate change. Luckily, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has announced support for a net zero goal by 2050.

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Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.