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You buy transportation, not a carnival thrill ride.
July 20, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

We've discussed it before but why not take a look at So You're Going To Fly, a 1939 Popular Mechanics article aimed at first-time flyers.
posted by The Whelk (35 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sometimes the future moves in the wrong direction....
posted by HuronBob at 5:36 PM on July 20, 2010


Sure, it's easy to find the la-z-boys and dinner tables set for 4. What I'd like to know, though, is WHAT IN THE NAME OF ZOD'S GREEN EARTH HAPPENED TO THAT STEWARDESS'S NECK??
posted by DU at 5:38 PM on July 20, 2010


Also, LET'S GO DEEPER!

Let's not and say we did.
posted by theredpen at 5:51 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I flew privately for the first time today (for work, not pleasure-I'm not that cool.) Totally cool experience.
posted by kenaldo at 5:54 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Some day, planes will be faster and larger -- so big that each person will have their own bed! And getting on the plane will even easier than it is today. The plane will be sitting on the runway and all you'll need to do is ride the automated stairs with ticket in hand. And don't worry about your luggage -- there's space next to your bed for that!"
posted by starman at 6:07 PM on July 20, 2010


Sometimes the future moves in the wrong direction....

$200 bucks in 1939 is the equivalent of $3,000 - 8,000 today. For that scratch, I bet you can have a much nicer flight today (and it would be direct!).

Flying from NYC to SF for the 1939 equivalent of about $4 is definitely the right direction, even if we can't enjoy a cigar on our 4 hour flights across the continent.
posted by loquax at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's all well and good to look at pictures of how luxurious air travel used to be and lament the current sad state that it has become, but $157.95 in 1939 dollars is $2414.08 in 2009 dollars. That accounts only for inflation and not the increased cost of oil -- in 1939 gasoline was 10 cents a gallon, which is $1.53 in 2009 dollars, whereas the US average price is around $2.73 per gallon (yes, I know aviation fuel is not the same as pump gas, but it's a point of reference.) If we assume conservatively that half of the ticket price goes towards fuel then that means the adjusted price would be about $3400 in 2009 dollars for this Newark - San Francisco ticket.

I'd like to think that if in 2010 there were enough people willing to pay $3400 a ticket to fill up a plane that there would be at least one airliner willing to retrofit their planes with la-z-boy recliners and lavatories with couches. I don't know what the current prices for first class are, or how many people are willing to pay that price, but I'm willing to bet it's not enough to offer more than a few rows of seats worth. And thus we arrive at reality, which is that people are just not willing to pay for luxury and they'd rather have their $245 tickets with their 28" seat pitch -- a reality of our own making.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:18 PM on July 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


No way am I reading all that. Where's the 2 minute video?

;-P
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:20 PM on July 20, 2010


It isn't always about the money.
posted by HuronBob at 6:37 PM on July 20, 2010


They didn't know it at the time, but a lot of the guys reading that article would be flying soon... in B-17s and B-24s.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:38 PM on July 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Three links to old posts and one to google books?
posted by crunchland at 6:44 PM on July 20, 2010


$200 and they don't even have WiFi? What a rip-off!
posted by qvantamon at 6:52 PM on July 20, 2010


Flying from NYC to SF for the 1939 equivalent of about $4 is definitely the right direction...

Is it?
posted by DU at 6:52 PM on July 20, 2010


Nah. People should go in the opposite direction. New York is way cooler.
posted by qvantamon at 7:00 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


It isn't always about the money.

Is it?


Here's what the 1939 equivalent of $200 buys you today. Those poor pre-war saps could only dream of a spa in the sky.
posted by loquax at 7:04 PM on July 20, 2010


Short Attention Sp: "No way am I reading all that. Where's the 2 minute video?

;-P
"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2SN7q6_Atc#t=06m57s
posted by mwhybark at 7:18 PM on July 20, 2010


(That's Hitchcock, BTW)
posted by mwhybark at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2010


"After the airline limousine drops you at the terminal, you'll enjoy the hospitality of the boys in the Transportation Safety Administration. They'll ask you to take off your shoes but don't worry, They won't examine your bunions too closely! They'll also relieve you of any harmless liquids you might be carrying..."
posted by usonian at 7:27 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


MeTa
posted by mlis at 7:46 PM on July 20, 2010


"But air transport is in long trousers now."

I want so badly to be able to use that line somewhere!

I guess I just did.
posted by newfers at 8:02 PM on July 20, 2010


If we assume conservatively that half of the ticket price goes towards fuel then that means the adjusted price would be about $3400 in 2009 dollars for this Newark - San Francisco ticket.

I actually looked up the percentage of an airline ticket that goes towards fuel with the idea that it would be much less than 50%, and was surprised: on a modern cross-country flight, the fuel costs can be in excess of 70%. I don't have the data to back this up, but I suspect that in the 30s and early 40s, the percentage was nowhere near that high. So not only have fuel costs increased in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, but they've likely become a bigger part of the ticket price.

As much as I despise modern air travel, I have to give them a lot of credit for making it really, really cheap, at least the parts that are under their control.

To travel by bus from NYC to Chicago in 1930 cost $20.50 ($260.92 in 2009 dollars); by rail in a Pullman sleeper on the PRR, $41.70 ($530.75). Today the bus would set you back $118; the train is $840 for a sleeper (the base fare, however, is only $168). The modern train is six hours faster* than the one in 1930; the bus is a full thirteen faster.

So over a greater length of time, bus services have managed "only" a 54% reduction in inflation-adjusted price, while rail fares have actually gone up for equivalent service. The airlines have managed an inflation-adjusted decrease of almost 85%, by my calculations (looking at a sample itinerary on Delta, JFK-SFO, one-way, less than a week in advance, for $386).

Still doesn't make the experience much more enjoyable, though.

* Potentially not a fair comparison as the route is not the same. The 1930s train is not specified, but is probably the PRR's Broadway Limited. The only direct New York - Chicago train currently in operation is Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited, which follows the "water level route" of the New York Central's 20th Century Limited. At its peak the 20th Century completed the trip in 16 hours, ~4h faster than the modern train.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was looking at the pictures in the article and noticed something about the seats and beds- no seatbelts (or bedbelts, whatever). My first thought was "what about turbulence?" but then I remembered, this was 1939. Nobody had seatbelts back then.

I question for the aviation knowledgeable in the audience: is there less or more turbulence at 24,000 feet (the service ceiling for the DC3 featured in the article) or 35,000 feet (cruising altitude for a Boeing 767)?
posted by Hactar at 9:24 PM on July 20, 2010


$157.95 in 1939 dollars is $2414.08 in 2009 dollars

Here's another way to think of it.

I can't pull up reliable median family income for 1939 or 1940, the earliest Census data I can get are for 1947 and they list about $3000. Various other sources say 1939 or 1940 had a median family income of $2000 which doesn't seem crazy.

Anyway, let's say that the ticket cost 8% of median annual family income.

In 2008, median family income was $52K, so the equivalent economic pain would be about $4200.

In actuality, tickets from Newark to San Francisco are less than a tenth of that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:48 PM on July 20, 2010


is there less or more turbulence at 24,000 feet (the service ceiling for the DC3 featured in the article) or 35,000 feet (cruising altitude for a Boeing 767)?

Service ceiling != cruising altitude. The net suggests that normal cruise altitude for a DC-3 was 5000-10000 feet since it was unpressurized.

To answer your question, 5-10K feet is vastly more bumpier than 35000.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:53 PM on July 20, 2010


kenaldo wrote: "I flew privately for the first time today (for work, not pleasure-I'm not that cool.) Totally cool experience."

Yeah, it's nice to only have to wait on the guy who owns the plane. (or is paying the charter bill) And having cars delivered planeside. I love that.

It's so freaking gluttonous and terrible for the environment, but it's a most excellent experience compared to commercial flying. Unless you're in one of AA's Flagship Suites. Them are some damn fine seats, there. Enough to make up for the airport hassle, even.
posted by wierdo at 9:56 PM on July 20, 2010


Tip the stewardess if you like her looks (and you will), but she'll politely refuse.
posted by hellphish at 10:10 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't have the data to back this up, but I suspect that in the 30s and early 40s, the percentage was nowhere near that high.

I'm sure fuel was dirt cheap, but then again fuel efficiency of a DC-3 has got to be absolutely atrocious compared to a modern day turbofan powered wide-body.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2010


$157.95 in 1939 dollars is $2414.08 in 2009 dollars

$2414 today barely gets you business class on a domestic flight, unless you booked a long way ahead and/or it's not a peak time.

And that's cattle class for some of my long-hauls :-(

OTOH, the long hauls today take about the same amount of time as the domestic flights did then!
posted by -harlequin- at 2:24 AM on July 21, 2010


I'm sure fuel was dirt cheap, but then again fuel efficiency of a DC-3 has got to be absolutely atrocious compared to a modern day turbofan powered wide-body.

You may have that backwards. THe DC-3 is a propeller driven plane. These are generally a lot more fuel efficient than jet engines.
But jet engines get you there in a fraction of the time, and that's where the money is.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:27 AM on July 21, 2010


THe DC-3 is a propeller driven plane. These are generally a lot more fuel efficient than jet engines.

I thought jet engines were faster because they compressed air, thus providing more oxygen for combustion. ....oh, I guess that's not inconsistent with your point. I've always thought it was more combustion for the same amount of fuel (and therefore higher efficiency) but I guess it could be, say, 2x the combustion for 3x the fuel (and therefore more power but lower efficiency).
posted by DU at 4:10 AM on July 21, 2010


The second part, if you don't want to mess around trying to find it.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 4:41 AM on July 21, 2010


You may have that backwards. THe DC-3 is a propeller driven plane. These are generally a lot more fuel efficient than jet engines.
But jet engines get you there in a fraction of the time, and that's where the money is.


I'm no engineer, but I think this is true only under certain circumstances and for certain definitions of "propeller".

A turboprop is more efficient than a jet at "slow" speeds. This is why you see small regional commuter planes like the Dash-8/Q400 tending to be turboprops. I think a as you approach 0.5 of Mach, jets - especially high-bypass turbofans - become the more efficient option.

A DC3 is a piston powered engine more or less like a car. A turboprop is more like a turbine powered propeller: a jet with a prop on the front.
posted by generichuman at 6:30 AM on July 21, 2010


Ah, there we go. The original civilian DC3s used Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines. Piston powered, but radial. So, not so much like a car, but still no turboprop.
posted by generichuman at 6:32 AM on July 21, 2010


A turboprop is more like a turbine powered propeller: a jet with a prop on the front.

For that matter, a high-bypass turbofan is almost a ducted turboprop. Most of the thrust comes from the spinning fan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2010


You may have that backwards. THe DC-3 is a propeller driven plane. These are generally a lot more fuel efficient than jet engines.

They may be more fuel efficient at their operating regime but that doesn't take into account that the cruise altitude for a 767 is much higher where the air is thinner, where props become less efficient and turbofans hit their peak -- coupled with the fact that the drag is less there as well.

From what I can google, the DC-3 had a range of about 1000 mi and could carry 800 gal of fuel and 28 passengers, so that's 0.029 gal/passenger-mile. It's a lot more complicated for a 767 because of all the variables, but if we take a -400ER configured for 3 classes then we can seat 245 with a specified range of 10300 km (=6400 mi) at maximum takeoff weight and a fuel capacity of 24100 gallons. That comes to 0.015 gal/passenger-mile, or close to twice as efficient.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:18 AM on July 21, 2010


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