How Air Travel Has Changed in Recent Decades

Unless you’re really young, chances are you remember that travel used to be completely different 30, 20, even a mere 10 years ago. Just like every other industry, tourism and travel has been changed by technology, gadgets, and global events. Ready to take a stroll down memory lane? Then read on!

Air Travel in the 1980s

Perhaps the most significant event of the decade was airline deregulation, which opened up air travel to the average consumer in regards to price and availability. With all that increased flying, airlines instituted frequent flyer programs for the first time.

Many airports weren’t ready with proper safety measures to accommodate the increasing number of flyers. Some airports, even those in major metropolitan areas, loaded passengers directly from the tarmac onto the plane.

Computerized booking systems used by travel agents were still a new form of technology, having only appeared on the scene in the late 70s. During this era, consumers were forced to rely on travel agents to make their air travel – there weren’t any websites!

Southwest Airlines, once a small, Texas-only carrier, expanded to the national level and quickly became the favored airline of many consumers and businesspeople due to their low-cost fares.

Airline passengers and their baggage were screened, but the service was provided by private contractors and was, for the most part, a quick, easy, and painless procedure.

Movies on video cassettes were shown as in-flight entertainment by some airlines for the first time; in 1985 the first audio player system was installed.

The 1990s

Airline travel continued to take off. By the beginning of the decade, more Americans had flown on an airplane than owned a car!

During this decade, cell phones were banned from use on airplanes (of course back then, hardly anyone owned a cell phone, better known as a “big, heavy brick with extremely limited coverage”).

Once the iconic company of airline travel, Pan American folded under the weight of bankruptcy in the early part of the decade.
The new Denver International Airport was finally completed in 1995 after many mishaps that had people wondering if the land was cursed. It was one-of-a-kind, featuring a remote location, unique architecture, automated baggage handling system, and the largest area in square miles as well as the largest off-site parking of any airport in the U.S.

Southwest Airlines became one of the first airlines to post a website, where internet users could check flight schedules and routes – but couldn’t yet book their own flights. It’s unknown exactly when the first online purchase of an airline ticket was made, but it had to be sometime in 1996 because Travelocity was offering online reservations that year; Priceline and Expedia became big travel fare contenders by 1999.

Singapore Airlines was the first company to provide in-flight telephone service, using a “KrisFone”.

The 21st Century

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted the government to take over the airport screening process, limit the types of substances that could be brought onboard, and require a government-issued I.D. for boarding – the now very familiar TSA.

The Concorde, once known as the bastion of luxury, trans-Atlantic air travel, took to the skies for the last time in 2003. In terms of size, it was replaced by the A380, which could hold 800 passengers – a first in airline history. Singapore Airlines made 1,000 flights using the A380 in the first year the aircraft was used commercially. In the United States, New York’s JFK Airport was the first to receive an A380 inbound flight in 2007.

In 2004, Lufthansa was the first airline to offer in-flight internet access using a satellite connection.

The first cell phones were used during flights on an international airline in 2008. In the U.S., we’re still waiting for the green light to use a cell phone onboard. Although we can’t use our cell phones during a flight, we can certainly use them to check departure delays, make reservation changes, and find things to do near our destination.