Airline travel is a whole new world compared to days gone by. We're not talking about the fabled "golden age" of mid-century air travel when flight attendants were glamorous and meat was carved and cocktails shaken seatside. Rather, we're referring to the more subtle changes that have occurred over just the past few decades. Here are some of the things that have gone missing since the 1990s and even earlier 2000s... some for the better, some for the worse.
1. Inside the Cockpit
For young travelers, it used to be the biggest treat of a flight: sitting up front in the cockpit with the pilots and, perhaps, having a little future career ambition instilled in their young minds. Nowadays, for obvious reasons, security procedures are a lot more rigorous and the cockpit is locked and out of bounds according to U.S. aviation rules. Even the pilots can't enter and exit freely. Nevertheless, if you're raising an aviation enthusiast — or are one yourself — some airlines do allow visitors to enter the cockpit before the main door is closed, at the pilot's discretion. It never hurts to ask, says JetSet contributor Ben Schlappig from One Mile at a Time. "Just be sure you ask the flight attendant first, and be ready to take 'no' for an answer."
It's hard to believe, from the vantage point of our enlightened, smoke-free times, that lighting up in a confined space was ever A-OK. To the relief of everyone's lungs and sense of smell, smoking was banned on all U.S domestic and international flights in 2000. Oddly, though, airplanes are still required to have ashtrays near lavatory doors, even though passengers are not supposed to use them. Here's why: It is almost expected that there will be someone who sneaks into the bathroom for a sneaky cigarette. If they throw it into a trash can filled with paper towels, they risk causing a fire, as actually happened in 1972 when 123 people died on a flight from Rio to Paris when a lit cigarette tossed into a bathroom trash can caused a fire onboard.
SkyMall was an oddly comforting (if often confounding) travel companion for more than two decades before it sadly filed for bankruptcy in 2015. This strange little magazine, found in the seatback pocket on most U.S. carriers and filled with bizarre gadgets you never knew you needed, was good for a laugh and for distracting your mind from turbulence, discomfort, and the interminable boredom of a long flight. While the company does still have an online presence, it's just not the same as browsing the bizarre wares contained within the seatback-pocket pages. If you are feeling nostalgic for SkyMall's unconventional goods, relive the good old days with Mike Barish's brilliant SkyMall Monday column at (the also now-defunct) Gadling.
4. Phones on Seatbacks
We're not sure many people ever used what was called the "Airfone." Remember? Those clunky looking headseats sporadically spread throughout the cabin, kitted out with a credit card slot so that you could charge about $5 per minutes' worth of calls. The service disappeared in the mid-to-late 2000s and, with the advent of decent onboard Wi-Fi, we don't think it's coming back anytime soon.
5. Real Plates and Silverware
Perhaps the last vestige of the so-called "golden age" of travel, eating your in-flight meal with real silverware, on a real plate, was largely done away with (at least for economy passengers) sometime in the early 2000s. There are still some airlines that still offer dignified dining in coach — Turkish and Singapore, for example. But, if travelers want the concept to make a comeback, they are going to have to stop stealing silverware.
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