8 Retro Airline Commercials

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The airline industry has undergone several upheavals and gut-punches in the past two decades. There was the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, the Air Traffic Controllers' strike of 1981, and the tragic events of September 11, 2001, to name just a few. But once upon a time airlines competed for customers not by price, but by services offered. Of course, throughout the 1970s, airlines earned the bulk of their revenue from business travelers (who were overwhelmingly male at that time), rather than families. Which probably explains airline why TV commercials of that era portrayed air travel as something of a Bunny Club in the sky"¦

1. First Class Toga Parties

For those who wondered what debauchery went on beyond that First Class curtain, Southern Airways laid the truth bare. Toga-clad stewardesses (they wouldn't become "flight attendants" for another decade or so) peeled grapes and served champagne and cracked crab for that select group.

2. Fly Maggie

National Airlines raised the hackles of feminist organizations with their "Fly Me" campaign. Both TV and print ads featured fetching flight attendants inviting potential passengers to "fly them." Exhibit A: Maggie and her two 747s. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure that one out.

3. Your Bags Will Arrive Safely. Got it?

I think the message this Eastern Airlines commercial was trying to convey was that your bags would always arrive with you at your destination. But"¦"My boys"? Spider? Rocco? Tiny? Is it just me, or does this whole commercial reek of "If you gotta complaint about de way deese mugs are handlin' your baggage, I've got a pair of cement galoshes fitted just for you"?

4. The Strip Tease

It's bad enough that Braniff International made their flight attendants change their outfits three times during a routine flight, but did they really need to promote that "feature" as some sort of in-flight striptease?

5. Hotpants

Remember what it was like before Southwest Airlines? You didn't have hostesses in hot pants. As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.

6. Take Your Mind off the Falling Engines

Several DC-10 airplane crashes in the late 1970s were traced back to design flaws in the aircraft, and for a short time the FAA grounded all DC-10s until the structural problems were solved. But pesky problems like engines falling off mid-air aside, doesn't that Friendship Room in coach class look inviting?

7. Coach Ain't What it Used to Be

Extra-wide seats and a steak dinner in Coach? That is old school. And why was such luxury available when flying east only? Did TWA presume that all their west-bound passengers were strictly the crunchy granola vegetarian types?

8. The Really Friendly Skies

This commercial dates back to 1958, but compared to air travel today, it might as well date back to the Stone Age. Look at the size of the lavatory, the restaurant booth-style seating areas, and the lobster dinner served on china plates. If I promise to dress in a June Cleaver-style suit while traveling, can we please return to this era for just a couple of weeks? Pretty please?

Read all past installments of Kara's TV-Holic series.

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August 20, 2009 - 6:44am
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