Flying High

There’s been some recent brouhaha over how “air travel was exciting” and glamorous in the ’50s and ’60s. Which isn’t, of course, a new complaint. But it is rubbish. It was boring, smoky, dangerous, noisy, and drunken.

But the legroom! The touch of class! Airport queues were not an ordeal. Well, actually, you can have that now. But let me take you on a little trip first.

Sydney to London

It is Monday December 1st, 1947 and a QANTAS Lockheed Constellation is preparing to leave Sydney airport. Its destination is London, via the Kangaroo Route. This is the first time a ‘direct’ flight has been available from Sydney to London. Before now, QANTAS flew to Singapore, and from there you could take an Empire Airways flight to London. Today there are just 29 passengers, and 11 crew, and they’re leaving at 22.30.

It will take them nearly four days. You see, the plane can’t fly well at night, and it needs to refuel regularly. So they’ll be stopping in Darwin, Singapore, Karachi, Cairo, Castel Benito (Tripoli), and London. They’ll spend the nights in Singapore, Karachi, and Cairo.

Six years later, in 1953, this same trip will be leaving every day except Sunday and cost £529 4s (that’s British pounds, not Australian). The cabin looks rather like a Dash-8.

A flight cost of just £529 4s? Well, that’s in 1953. That’s equivalent to £12,500 today, equal to $23,650 AUD, or $20,750 USD.

Okay, so not many people could pay that! Clearly only the Queen and other VIPs were flying.

In 1963 there were two classes, and flying the much improved Boeing 707 Jet the flight time was down to less than two days, since no overnight stops were required. But the price of a return Economy ticket was still high at £471.40, or £8,350.00 in today’s money (AUD $15,750).

These days QF1/2 is a Airbus A380-800, with a refuel in Dubai. It takes less than 24 hours. And a return Economy airfare can be had for $3,000. A First Class airfare is $13,500. And First Class in 2014 is a lot nicer than Economy in the ’50s and ’60s.

Sydney to Melbourne

Not all of us are jet-setting across the world. Sometimes you just need to be at a wedding one state away, and you’d rather not drive for eight hours straight. Fair enough, you’re not alone. The route between Sydney and Melbourne is the 5th busiest in the world. Maybe you’re budget concious too, so you’re going to fly ANSETT.

Did you just do a double-take? Yes, ANSETT. It’s 1949, and the flight leaves at 3.10 PM, there will be a stop in Wagga at around 4.30 and you’ll arrive at 6.20 pm (none of this 24 hour nonsense thank you). A return flight costs just £13 (that’s Australian pounds), and it’s a Douglas Airliner.

That’s $650 today.

Today the flight time is an hour and a half, and the cost goes from about $125 return (JetStar) to $450 at peak times (QANTAS). There’s over 90 flights each way per day.

The "QANTAS" Airway: Save Days of Travel by using "Qantas" Mail and Taxi-Planes [From the collection of David Zekria]