Not all those days were so great. As Scott McCartney notes in the WSJ, a round-trip coach ticket from L.A. to NY cost $208 in 1958, which in today's dollars is $1,570. Put another way, the average price to fly one mile has fallen from 57 cents in 1949 to 14 cents in 2009.
The piston-driven planes of [the 1940s and 1950s], like the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-7, were noisy and often ferociously bumpy. They couldn't fly over storms and turbulence the way jet-powered airplanes can. Engine failures were more frequent. So were crashes.
Air travel hit its sweet spot in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when legroom was generous and many of the cabins were empty (the load factor, or percentage of seats filled, was 45.9 percent in 1968). That's when the airline business was all about tasty (free) meals and miniskirt-clad stewardesses (yes, they were called stewardesses).
"Airlines competed on the basis of service and not on the basis of price. And it was good. It's not just the memory of good ol' times--it was really good service," said Stanley Plog, an airline consultant who conducted studies on passenger comfort. He still recalls how tasty the Chateaubriand was on TWA.
Even then, however, there were problems - long lines of planes waiting to take off, aircraft circling the airport for an hour, and hijackings - remember those?