Golden Age of B747 Air Travel

The Golden Age of 1st Class on the B747 Jumbo

The Boeing 747 Jumbo jet had only been in operation for a year or 2, and was considered at the time, the pinnacle of 1st class travel experiences. Prior to this airplane, the typical journey from Australia to England or the USA would take weeks, or months via cruise ships, or over a week on the clipper with 8 or 12 hops. The B747 changed all that, and in a level of luxury that made passengers enthusiastic about dressing up for the experience. 

The B747 was the first airplane to offer in-flight movies (via a flip-over screen at front of economy section) along with weird plastic tube headsets.

QANTAS Boeing 747 Captain's Cook First Class Lounge in the 1970's

            Captain Cook Club

As a result, airfares were expensive. An economy ticket was 3/4’s of a years average salary, business class tickets the price of a car, 2 first class tickets, well, exorbitant, lavishly expensive, and only in reach of the less than dozen out of over 400 passengers on each flight. The airplanes were designed to give more personal space than ever before.

The lounge experience

The B747 was optimized for first class passengers, utilizing the 2nd floor hump behind the cockpit as a private lounge for 1st class passengers. QANTAS called this the “Captain Cook Club”, Continental Airlines had the “Polynesian Club”, PanAm had the cigar and cognac bar, and American Airlines installed a piano!

Boeing 747 First Class Lounge in the 1970'sBoeing 747 First Class Lounge in the 1970'sBoeing 747 First Class Lounge in the 1970's

The long hauls

Thanks to my fathers job as the Australian Defense Attache in Washington DC, he was granted 2 return long haul air tickets in first class each year for each of his children (4 of us), as well as 3 return tickets for my mum, and boy did we use them! We mainly flew QANTAS internationally, but occasionally on both Continental and PanAm when the schedules were preferable.  Domestically in the USA, we mainly flew on TWA or American for cross-country trips.

Back then (1972-1976 mainly) the typical “Kangaroo” refueling route was: Washington DC —> San Francisco —> Honolulu, Hawaii —> Nadi, Fiji —> Sydney, Australia —> Brisbane.  

I remember vividly each time in Fiji the spraying the airplane to kill the flies, and opening the door to a wave of heat and flies. 

Going from Australia to England it was: Brisbane —> Sydney —> Perth —> Calcutta (oh the stink of sewage) —> Cairo —> London — about 32 hours, alternatively: Brisbane —> Sydney —> Darwin —> Singapore —> Calcutta —> Cairo —> London.

Dulles International Airport mobile loungeIn Washington DC, at Dulles International Airport, to accommodate the size of the jumbo plane (like a double decker bus), they built “mobile lounges” that would drive to the aircraft door, you would step into the lounge, it would lower itself and drive to the terminal. Luxury!  Every airline printed little books of system timetables.

The gifts

It really was the lap of luxury — the airlines gave you complimentary flight travel bags and luggage stickers when you booked, and when you arrived on board (after little-to-no security screenings), you got packs of stuff, including playing cards, magnetic chess/chequers games, writing paper and envelopes, toiletries etc…. Children automatically got cockpit visits, and were given miniature models of the airplane and “wings” by the pilot.  Frequent flyers received certificates. Everyone got free booze, and restaurant quality gourmet food. 

People dressed up for the flight experience, similar to attending a Broadway show.  SEARS even had a fashion line for “high flyers”.

QANTAS Boeing 747 circular playing cards in 1973 QANTAS Boeing 747 flight travel bag in 1973

My favorites were both QANTAS, TWA and PanAm — they had the best gifts. TWA made chocolate milkshakes for me and had the best metal “wings” pins! PanAm had the nicest air crew, but QANTAS still felt a little like being home, and served great sausage rolls onboard.

The Classes

mum memoirs 747jumbo B747 Design

Today, I absolutely detest travel, it’s like taking a public transit bus… and I typically fly in business or first class.   How times have changed.

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