Air travel today is a chore, involving seemingly endless queues, security checks and waiting in badly carpeted gates, with only the warm light of the holiday at the end of the flight making it worthwhile. Things weren’t always that way though. After World War Two, civilian aviation made tentative steps forward thanks to entrepreneurial characters buying up old military aircraft and kitting them out with an array of furniture. However, thanks to these innovative arrangements journeys were often uncomfortable and undertaken for convenience.
This all changed with the introduction of the first commercial jets, first by BOAC with the De Havilland Comet in 1952, introducing the London-New York route in 1958. Pan Am quickly followed suit and this competition kick started a new style of travel for a whole new generation. The technological capabilities of the jet opened up international destinations, with major cities, such as Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, alongside the picturesque towns that dotted the French and Italian Riviera becoming staple summer holiday spots. The cost of jet travel left it, and these destinations, elite and exclusive pursuits.
It was in this period that the infamous Pan Am standard of airhostess developed, with the young women working for the airline required to maintain certain measurements and standards of appearance. The glamour of this travel was further exaggerated by the press, who christened the rich and famous regular users of this new service the “jet set”.
The cornerstones of this lifestyle were weekends in bars and on beaches around Europe, facilitated by this new mode of transport. It was in this era that the paparazzi phenomenon first appeared, with airports full of ever-disembarking and attention-hungry stars providing lucrative targets. The glamour of the jet set life was exemplified by The Beatles in 1968 who began Back in the USSR with the line “flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC”. The jet set exemplified the indulgence of the 1960s.
Inevitably, the lifestyle of the jet set went into decline. As jet travel became more affordable, merely flying jet was not enough to set one apart. Instead, the press came up with a new phenomenon, “the beautiful people”, more defined by who they associated with than how they flied. Nonetheless, the jet set era was the peak of glamorous travel, where aircraft were imbued with the mysterious charisma still evident in the popular fascination with their continued growth.