1960 Aer Lingus-Author’s Collection

A 12 Year-Old’s Guide to Airline Advertisements

by Luke Knapp

I’m a 12 year-old aviation enthusiast. Last year I wrote a post called “An 11 Year-Old’s Guide to Planespotting”. For a long time I’ve been interested in airline advertisements. Last year, I decided to see how airline ads have evolved along with the airplanes themselves.

I did some research at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, and there I found a wealth of information, and was helped by Megan and Rick Prelinger. My good friend and artist Frank Loudin sent me a wonderful assortment of aviation memorabilia. As I researched, I was surprised to see how closely the design and capabilities of aircraft were reflected in the ads.

In this post I hope to bring back the amazement in flight that I discovered in these relics of another age. Today, let’s dust the settling human impatience off of the glistening magnificent wings, so that the window seat will once more become the coveted location, the gateway to the heavens. Please put your seat backs into the full and upright positions, your tray table up, and fasten you safety belts.


The Golden Years

As flight became more commonplace, the network of destinations began to grow. Advertisements began to describe “Florida, America’s Riviera” or the immense skyscrapers of New York City. The global web of air travel begins to appear.

1939 Deutsche Lufthansa Route Map-Courtesy Prelinger Archive
1940 Eastern Air Lines Route Map-Courtesy Prelinger Archive


The Airliners

Aviation had become the way to travel. Pan Am began to send Flying Boats to Asia from the West Coast. Long-range airliners such as the Boeing Stratocruiser (which had a range of 4,600 miles) entered the scene. New voyages became possible, such as a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. Advertisements will highlight the service of crew, and the sky worthiness of aircraft.

Circa 1950 Trans World Airlines-Courtesy Frank Loudin
1955 Convair-Courtesy Prelinger Archive


Dawn of the Jet

Prior to the introduction of the jet, airliners had been restricted to propellers. The jet engine, which relied on air being sucked in by a turbo fan, fuel being injected into the air causing an explosion, and the hot air and exhaust propelling the plane forward. With double the cruising speed of a propeller airliner, jets were the obvious choice. Ads emphasize the speed and comfort of jet travel, encouraging passengers to opt for an airline’s new jetliners rather than conventional propeller planes.

1960 Aer Lingus-Author’s Collection
1960 Aer Lingus-Author’s Collection
1960 Aer Lingus-Author’s Collection
1957 Pan Am-CourtesyFrank Loudin


The Jet Age

The way of air travel changed with the unveiling of the Boeing 747. The jumbo jet offered range, speed, and an unprecedented 452 maximum seating. The extreme increase in seating per flight meant that the price of a ticket decreased, and so aviation became more accessible to the public. Yet longer routes were possible, such as nonstop from London to Los Angeles or Tokyo. The point that ads are carrying across is the glamor of flight, and the luxury of their new jets.

Circa 1970 UPS-Courtesy Frank Loudin
Circa 1970 United Airlines-Courtesy Frank Loudin
Circa 1980 United Airlines-Courtesy Frank Loudin


Cheap, Cheap, and Even Cheaper

The Airline Deregulation Act, signed by President Carter, handed the choice of routes and cost over from the government to the airlines themselves. This allowed many low-cost carriers (airlines) to enter the market such as Spirit, Frontier, and America West. However, airlines such as Pan Am and TWA were not able to compete with the unlimited competitors. They faded away, like so much else, and descended into the abyss of time.

Circa 1990 United Airlines-Courtesy Frank Loudin
1995 American Airlines-Courtesy Holly Warren

1990s-Present Day

Jetsetters: You, Me, or the Guy Next Door

Flights are at an all time high, and with many low-cost airlines covering the globe, more people are flying than ever before.

2015 Delta-Author’s Collection
2015 Swiss
2015 Emirates

To me, this ad symbolizes the open future of aviation. There are no limits to where flight can take us. The Airbus 380 soaring away from the pinnacles of civilization creates a powerful image, as it ventures into the unknown.

Thanks for reading! If you have a favorite airplane advertisement, write a reply.

—Luke Knapp

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