Almost all of us are familiar with the hustle-bustle of air travel today. The prices are good but the seats are cramped, and the planes are full. The airlines charge extra for everything from bags, to the most popular seats. And for most domestic trips you can forget about food, or any other amenities unless your willing to shell out a little more cash. Still the airlines are safer and faster than traveling by car. And we put up with all the charges and packed planes because that is just the way air travel is.
However there was a time when commercial flying was completely different. Before 1978, the airlines were regulated and the prices to go from A to B were set by the government. It cost quite a bit more to travel in those days, but it was also far more laid back and comfortable. The planes were usually not full, and the amenities were free. Since airlines could not compete on price, they instead concentrated on giving the best flight experience. That led to quite a bit of experimenting by the airlines to one up each other, and hopefully steal some traffic away from the other guy.
At that time the big 4 airlines were TWA (Trans World Airlines), Pan Am (Pan American Airways), United Airlines, and Eastern Airlines. The first three did most of the international flying from the U.S. In 1965 Braniff International painted their planes fluorescent colors and started a new campaign called “The End of the Plain Plane”. They had designers and architects make over the entire airline from top to bottom and redo everything from uniforms to ticket counters and gates. Many of the other companies introduced their own new designs to keep up and the sixties jet age took off.
The introduction of the Boeing 747 aircraft in 1970 brought a new way to one up the competition. Before the oil crisis drove up jet fuel to higher levels, the 747’s flew domestically, and the airlines added everything from cocktail lounges and piano bars, to exclusive first class on the upper deck. The stewardesses (as flight attendants were known back then) wore uniforms often created by well known designers. Mini-skirts were popular at the time and many stewardesses had short skirts of varying length. Another way to sell the airline since the travelers in those days were mostly male.
Meanwhile in Texas, a small start up airline figured they could avoid government regulation and pricing if they flew only intrastate in Texas alone. Once Air Southwest acquired financing, they were able to offer rock bottom fares in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio much to the chagrin of Braniff, American, and Continental. They changed their name to Southwest Airlines and made history. However in the early days they were best known for the hot pants their stewardesses wore. The hot pants ensemble brought Southwest a great deal of publicity at a time where the airline really needed it. After deregulation in 1978, the airline took off and expanded beyond Texas slowly becoming the airline it is today.