First Class Flights History. What Cabins Were Like

In the first years of aviation development airplanes looked completely different. Sure thing, modern airlines would not offer you a place to sleep for free. But how was it back then? What kind of service did privileged passengers get? These questions can be answered by revising the history of first-class flights. (49 photos)

First  class

First class
1. First civil planes were narrow and longish, passenger seats were suggested be a kind of excessive luxury, as well as caviar and toasts. First seats were just indoor chairs, you wouldn’t likewise find any seatbelts. Also, a cockpit was not separated from a cabin, so passengers sat right behind the pilot. You can see the example on the photo of 1926 flight. A cabin with heating was a rear occasion.

row of seats
2. Soon airplanes enlarged and the second row of seats appeared.

1930’s flight
3. A 1930’s flight.

4. The agitation plane “Maksim Gorky”, 1934.

onboard service
5. The onboard service appeared when planes had become relatively suitable for commercial flights. This is Ellen Church, the first flight attendant in the world; she started her career in 1930. You can also see a “smoking permitted” sign. No-smoking laws is an invention of last 20-30 years, back then no one would ever think about the damage dealt. Onboard smoking of cigarettes and cigars was a common fact.

cabins for 2 to 3 passengers
6. The aviation industry experienced a fast growth. Inspired by luxurious trains, expresses, and sumptuous cruise liners, engineers would design cabins for 2 to 3 passengers. A comfort was a real necessity: in 1938 it took 11 days to fly from London to Australian Brisbane (more than a month on a cruise ship); the flight included more than 20 stops. The advertising of British Imperial Airlines claimed: “8 days from London to Singapore”. Company’s “Flying Ship Empire” seats looked like this:

Onboard service
7. Onboard service could be compared to best Paris restaurants.

fashionable rout
8. A fashionable rout could be held in this room.

breakfast in bed
9. A breakfast in bed.

full-size sleeping plac
10. A full-size sleeping place for a proper rest.

11. Actually, until 1960s it was not possible to separate classes of onboard cabins: all tickets were first class and cost extremely expensive; only wealthiest passengers could afford buying them. Compared to contemporary currency, it would cost approximately 17,600$ to get from London to Singapore. Entering the plane in a casual clothing was perceived as an inappropriate behavior, a flight was a kind of a rout. A 1930’s photo of Sikorsky S40B plane.

first class dinner time
12. A dinner time. Look at the table: no plastic, only porcelain and crystal glasses! The amount of alcohol offered is limitless. Although, drunk hysterics would happen surprisingly rare as drinking much was irrelevant in terms of secular behavior.

British actors Winifred Shoter and Jack Lester on their flight to India, 1945.
13. British actors Winifred Shoter and Jack Lester on their flight to India, 1945.

Late 1940's
14. Late 1940’s.

An onboard bar, 1945
15. An onboard bar, 1945.

5-6 course dinner
16. You could often get a 5-6 course dinner.

First class cabin
17. 1955. A cabin designed by Henry Dreyfuss.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
18. Boeing 377 Stratocruiser is one of the symbols of “the Golden Age of aviation”. It launched in 1949. The plane also had comfortable space for sleeping:

First class kids
19. The photo suggests this plane be so comfortable that you can without a doubt take your kids in a trip.

first class hall
20. The hall.

dinner at Stratocruiser.
21. The dinner at Stratocruiser.

first commercial jets
22. One of the first commercial jets, 1952. It had a special room designed particularly for hygiene procedures.

cabin of Boing 707
23. Here you can see a cabin of Boing 707 that launched in late 1960’s by Pan American (one of the most luxurious airlines in that period).

comfortable interior
24. A small tack in a comfortable interior.

An onboard dinner time
25. The next important step in the development of civil aviation was Boeing 747. An onboard dinner time.

glass of champagne
26. Another glass of champagne? Sure! In 1960s, becoming a flight attendant was slightly more difficult than now. The requirements were definitely formidable: perfect appearance, exclusive communicative skills, waitress skills and sufficient knowledge in medicine (if needed, a flight attendant could become an obstetrician during the flight). Also, the applicant had to fit certain formal criteria: fixed weight (49 to 50), aged 21 to 27, high moral characteristics and unmarried status. On the interview in Pan America, girls were asked to translate a French text into English, have a walk to check the gait and the posture; as well, the weight was measured. After accomplishing all the examinations, a girl would take lessons of etiquette, geography and cross-cultural communication.

27. A flight attendant with the trendy high hairstyle offers appetizers and drinks, mid-1960s.

Caviar canapés
28. Caviar canapés.

first class at Mid-1960s
29. Mid-1960s.

flight attendant’s uniform
30. Focus your attention on flight attendant’s uniform.

American Braniff International, 1967
31. American Braniff International, 1967.

32. Repatriated Soviet Union spies, Morris and Leontine Cohen, on their all-inclusive flight from London to Warsaw. Smoking was still permitted.

33. The memories about aircraft of 1950s-1960s in the western world are always painted in bright nostalgic tones. However, people are never nostalgic about the Soviet Union’s first class flights. Why is it so?
Those who used to fly in this period would not recollect anything about first class cabins, although it did exist. As a matter of fact, a first class cabin appeared on 1956’s Tu-104. The planes used for domestic flights differed: first class seats were excluded in order to maximize the capacity of a plane. That is why you would not find a class stratification on domestic flights. The only upgrades you could get are the window seat or first row tickets. Few planes also got a mere upgrade of several front rows: a cabin was rebuild in order to make a bigger leg space, that’s all.
The situation with international flights wasn’t the same. “Aeroflot” airlines struggled to fit all the western standards. The planes were divided into two classes: the economy and the first class. American LIFE magazine photographer Howard Sochurek visited the Soviet Union in 1957 and made some shots of Tu-104’s interior. The first class was composed of separate sections:

Pets were allowed
34. Pets were allowed to be taken alongside.

first class seat
35. Anyone could occasionally have a first class seat as it was often unoccupied.

36. Instead of drinking during the flight, Soviet Union citizens would read and talk about communism and Karl Marx!

Tu-104’s onboard kitchen
37. A Tu-104’s onboard kitchen. It was the first plane to include lunchtime service.

Wooden panels
38. Wooden panels and skin coating everywhere! Passengers were surprised with Tu-104…

39. …yet Tu-114 managed to amaze citizens even more. It was the first project to have adequately separated cabins with a place to sleep. Passengers would be given a pillow and a blanket.


Soviets also knew luxury traveling perks
41. The Soviets also knew luxury traveling perks.

sitting first class cabin
42. A sitting first class cabin.

A cabin for a head of state in different modifications of Tu-134 planes.
43. A cabin for a head of state in different modifications of Tu-134 planes.

A Tu-144’s first class cabin.
45. A Tu-144’s first class cabin.

46. These photos are taken from the Aeroflot’s advertisement brochure of the mid-1990s.




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