What it was like to be an airline passenger in the 1930s

Originally published at: What it was like to be an airline passenger in the 1930s | Boing Boing


Meanwhile at Lufthansa in Germany…

Seriously, though. Wicker is a light-weight material and was proven at the time to produce relatively comfortable seats. Why not use it? And yeah, they were bolted to the floor. You can see the rail they are attached to in the second image.


Wicker chairs aren’t especially durable. The replacement cost may be low enough to still make it worthwhile. They’re certainly a renewable resource, unlike plastic and the oil it’s made out of.


Yeah, I can’t imagine them being especially hard to replace. Probably even in relative backwaters, where these Ford Trimotors were bound to fly as well.


If I were to fly on a 1930’s German airline it would be the Graf Zeppelin or nothing. (And even then, I’d want it to be sometime before 1933.)



Of course commercial flight wasn’t something the average person could afford in the 1930s, so if you adjusted for inflation the people in these photos probably paid at least as much as one would pay for First Class tickets today, maybe even as much as the cost of a private charter jet today.

Google says a roundtrip ticket from coast to coast cost about $260 in the 1930’s, which was about half as much as a new car would have cost at the time.


Future historians will marvel at the luxuries that we in the early 21st century enjoyed.


There was only one way to fly in luxury:

it had one small drawback - but it made for perhaps the most 1930s photo imaginable…


Around US $4500 today.


Guessing that you’re talking about the hydrogen thing. But as I like to point out whenever the subject comes up:

  • Fixed-wing aircraft of the 1930s had terrible safety records by modern standards, so it’s not really fair to compare 1930s Zeppelins against 21st century airliners.
  • The Graf Zeppelin had a long and accident-free safety record including over 1 million miles of flight, 144 ocean crossings and a round-the-world trip before it was decommissioned in 1937.
  • Hydrogen flames go up, and the passenger cabin is on the bottom, so as a result most people onboard the Hindenburg survived that disaster. That’s often not the case in plane crashes.

Pretty dramatic footage though, which is what everyone remembers.


Yep. Hydrogen was the problem.

Somehow Zeppelin had managed to never have a single fatality on a passenger airship before the Hindenburg - an incredible achievement for the time.

But after the R101 catastrophe they realised a hydrogen fire was an entirely avoidable danger. They scrapped the LZ128 follow-on to the Graf Zeppelin and originally designed Hindenburg for helium. Zeppelin put enormous effort into securing helium, they only resorted to using hydrogen when political factors made importing it from the US impossible.


Future historians will marvel that we subsidise airline flying at every stage: building the planes, building the airports, the fuel, the airlines operations, and of course regional aid to bring flights to regional airports so that you have to burn more fuel to go to where you are going because it is just so cheap to fly to that airport. Socialism at work for the few at its very best.

I guess they’ll also marvel at dry land, animals, sufferable temperatures for much of the year, and the number of people.


In the 1930’s Lufthansa was hard at work with those new long range plane designs that could drop their passengers at 10,000’

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Future historians will celebrate us alongside the Battles of Aratta and Kerma.


FYI- last time I visited the Evergreen Air Museum in Oregon they had a Ford Tri motor that you could actually tour the inside. Early aviation is so fascinating because the planes were designed by boat, car, and bicycle designers ( among others) and you can see their craft being applied and morphed into the new field of aviation.

Evergreen A&SM is amazing, go see if you have a chance.


The passenger fares were being subsidized by the airmail that was being carried. Airmail is the only reason that regular scheduled passenger flights ever got going at all.


IIRC, the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, also has a pre-war passenger plane that you can gawk at, including the interior. What I remember were the stylish curtains at the windows.


i’m a grown-ass adult and i am perfectly comfortable in today’s airline seats, honestly. they are not made for children, they are made for the average-sized person, and i guess i just fit that average. shrug


I’m only medium large, and not overweight, but I find airline seats I can afford to be too narrow, too closely spaced, and in particular too short. And if my arm’s on a shared armrest, nobody else’s can fit. I like the look of these wicker seats and I think I’d prefer them.
That being said, I’m literally flying in the air so it’s hard to complain too much about the drawbacks. I’d rather complain about the airport :slight_smile:

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Looking at the accompanying photo, with what looks like a screen separating passengers from pilots, I can only wonder, what was the in-flight movie?

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