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10 Things We No Longer See at Airports

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Air travel used to be a lot more expensive and exclusive before the industry was deregulated, and many airports therefore had a lot more amenities that were included in the cost of your pricey ticket. Of course, the events of 9/11 changed the design and operation of U.S. airports, as did technology and health concerns. See how many of these features, if any, you remember.

1. Observation Decks

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Plane spotting as a hobby has become less convenient since 9/11. Watching airplanes take off and land was a free and exciting activity that a lot of kids enjoyed with their parents back in the day; so much so that almost every airport had a glass-enclosed observation area (outside the security check) where the public could sit for hours to watch and even photograph jumbo jets.

2. Colorful, Distinctive Luggage Tags


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Baggage tags affixed by airlines at airports used to be as different and collectable as postage stamps. Each airport had its own logo and color combination and overall design, so that you could tell from many yards away if the bag was destined for ORD (Chicago) or ORY (Paris). In the name of efficiency, baggage tags are now computer-generated and are all of the same generic, zebra-striped black-and-white bar code variety.

3. Hare Krishnas

The berobed followers of Krsna handing out flowers while soliciting donations at every major airport was so ubiquitous in the 1970s and '80s that it was included as a joke in the 1980 farcical film Airplane! Tighter security, combined with a 1997 ban imposed at LAX by the City Council, eventually prevented the sect from approaching airline passengers as they tried to catch their flights.

4. Courtesy Cars

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Believe it or not, one of the perks offered by most major airports to businessmen (they did most of the flying at the time) was the use of an airport-owned automobile for a nominal fee. Eventually, rental cars would become big airport business and those Important Businessmen would have to wait in line with the rest of us Average Humans to pick up a sub-compact.

5. Coin-Operated TV Chairs

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If your flight happened to be delayed and you didn’t feel like reading, watching TV was one way to make the time pass quickly. Most airports had a section of “TV chairs” that featured coin-operated televisions which would provide 30 minutes of local programming for 25 cents. Since pretty much everyone has their own portable entertainment these days, the Tele-A-Chair equipment is not economically viable for most airports.

6. Free Baggage Carts


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In many other parts of the world, luggage carts are owned by the individual airport and are provided to customers as a convenience. This was once the standard in the U.S. as well—until the late 1960s when the buggy business was sub-contracted out to a company called Smarte Carte. Airports found that they could save money by not having to retrieve carts from the far reaches of the parking lot, or worry about passengers taking them home with them.

See Also: 11 Things We No Longer See on Planes

7. Welcoming/Bidding Farewell at the Gate

Again, tightened security now prevents friends and family members from walking almost up the jetway to greet arriving passengers or clutch them tightly for one last farewell hug before departure. These regulations also make a major plot point of 1970’s Airport impossible—after all, that’s how Academy Award-winner Helen Hayes sneaked aboard an international flight.

8. Life Insurance Kiosks

For many years there were not only kiosks with smiling personnel ready to sell you flight insurance ($25,000 coverage or more for a few dollars), but also self-service vending machines located near just about every gate. Despite the occasional kook who bought a huge policy with the intent of blowing up the plane, the pre-flight insurance business slowly fizzled out simply because as air travel became more affordable and common, folks didn’t view a flight as any more life-threatening than a road trip, and revenues dropped.

9. Outdoor Stairs as Your Only Option


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Until the Jetway was invented, all passengers had to walk outside onto the tarmac and climb a set of portable stairs to board the aircraft. This was often inconvenient depending upon weather conditions, or on the passenger’s personal fear of flying. The first Jetway covered corridors were installed by Delta Airlines at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport in May 1961.

10. Smoking

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For many years there were no restrictions on where you could light up in an airport. Then when the Surgeon General got involved with all those health warnings, designated smoking areas became the norm. When cigarettes were first banned on certain flights, the most congested area in the airport arrival lounge wasn’t the baggage claim but rather the perimeter around the first pedestal ashtray passengers encountered as they exited. Today, smoking restrictions at many airports are so tight that folks have to stand some 20 feet or more outside the exit doors of the building.

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Man-Eating Space Lizards: When V Was a TV Smash
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American broadcast television in the 1980s didn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. Shows like Hill Street Blues were outliers, crowded off the schedule by head-hammering episodic series featuring mercenaries (The A-Team), car chases (The Dukes of Hazzard), or soapy melodrama (Dynasty).

On its surface, V appeared to be no different. A two-part miniseries airing on consecutive evenings in May 1983, it told the story of the “Visitors,” gregarious aliens who arrive on Earth in three-mile-long spaceships and greet humans with a bargain: Let the Visitors harvest a chemical needed for their continued survival and receive advanced medical knowledge in return.

As the humanoid aliens reveal themselves to be malevolent lizard-like creatures who prefer to dine on humans rather than prolong their lives, V took on the look and feel of a pulpy sci-fi epic—the kind of thing that could be easily summarized in one Amazing Stories cover image from the 1940s. But writer Kenneth Johnson had something far more subversive in mind. The Visitors were stand-ins for fascists, and V was a cautionary tale about the perils of complacency.

Jason Bernard and Robert Englund star in the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
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A Carnegie Mellon graduate, Johnson had broken into television with a writing stint on The Six Million Dollar Man, for which he conceived a female counterpart in the form of Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner). Sommers got her own series, The Bionic Woman, which Johnson produced until he was tasked with adapting The Incredible Hulk as a live-action drama.

It was around this time that Johnson became fascinated with a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, about a fascist group that rises to power in the United States. Johnson reworked the concept into Storm Warnings, a feature-length screenplay; that work landed on the desk of NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who encouraged Johnson to adapt it into a television miniseries by casting Soviets or the Chinese as the antagonists.

Tartikoff’s request made sense. The miniseries format, which took off in the 1970s with Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, was drawing record numbers of viewers. The Thorn Birds, about a priest who is tempted to break his vow of celibacy by a younger woman, was a hit; so was Shogun, about a 17th century man who shipwrecks in Japan and becomes a pawn in a war between samurai. (Both starred Richard Chamberlain.) Storm Warnings had an appropriately sprawling narrative with multiple characters, a feat of creative engineering Johnson was encouraged to use after reading War and Peace.

But the writer was less enthused about casting a foreign superpower as a rival. Tartikoff then suggested aliens, the allegorical turf of Rod Serling that had fueled many a socially-conscious episode of The Twilight Zone. Johnson later told Starlog he “ran screaming from the room” at the suggestion, but eventually warmed to it. Storm Warnings became V: NBC committed $13 million to produce the four-hour drama.

A scene from the NBC miniseries 'V' (1983).
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While a generous budget for television, the scope of Johnson’s idea taxed every available dollar. A 60-foot-long model of one of the Visitor ships was built; a giant hangar intended to depict the inside was made to scale, albeit cut in half; matte effects, with the ships laid over a background painting, depicted their unsettling arrival over Earth’s major cities. A feature with those same ambitions might take months of pre-production planning: Johnson got three weeks.

Whatever was lacking in the special effects and costumes—Johnson opted for a regal, military-inspired garb for his aliens that hasn’t aged well—never diluted the real attraction of V. Following a television cameraman (Marc Singer) and a botanist (Faye Grant) as they grow suspicious of the true intentions of the Visitors, the series quickly turns into an examination of what happens when a population is seduced by the promise of a helping hand. Celebrities and world leaders endorse the Visitors; scientists questioning their motives are corralled and delivered to ships for “re-education.” By the time their foot soldier Diana (Jane Badler) is seen devouring a guinea pig, Singer and his cohorts have decided to form a resistance to push back against being turned into alien kibble. For viewers who didn’t care for the subtext, there was still the birth of a lizard baby to talk about with coworkers and friends the next morning.

In a departure from conventional advertising, NBC decided to take a conservative approach with V. Posters in subway stations and bus stops depicted illustrations of the Visitors in propaganda-style posters; later, a “V” would be spray-painted over the ads. There was never any mention of the series.

The premiere of V drew a 40 share, which meant 40 percent of all households watching television at that hour were watching the lizard people establish their dominance on Earth. Tartikoff even granted Johnson the ability to run 15 minutes past the allotted two-hour time slot, cutting into local newscasts. On night two, V maintained much of that audience.

What might have turned out to be a lucrative franchise for NBC quickly lost its way. Tartikoff wanted Johnson to oversee a weekly drama continuing the story of the resistance while ramping up their licensing efforts; Johnson argued that the premise would be too expensive for the format and suggested a two-hour movie air every month or two instead.

A licensed action figure from the 'V' miniseries
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In the end, neither quite got their wish. Another miniseries, V: The Final Battle, aired in 1984, but Johnson disowned it after extensive rewrites. V: The Series followed, but lasted just one season. Johnson lamented that the network had taken his cautionary tale and turned it into a spectacle, with gunfights and lizard people eating small animals taking the place of the allegory.

V was revived by ABC in 2009, but low ratings led to a quick demise after two seasons. Other shows and movies like 1996’s Independence Day had borrowed heavily from Johnson, wearing out the premise. In 2007, Johnson published V: The Second Generation, a novel based on one of his follow-up scripts.

The miniseries format would continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s before serialized dramas with shortened seasons edged them off television schedules. Like The Thorn Birds, V remains one of the most well-remembered entries in the medium, due in no small part to Johnson’s nods to levity. When the aliens arrive, a high school band plays the Star Wars theme.

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Restaurant Seeks Donations to Big Mouth Billy Bass Adoption Center
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Kevin Burkett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’ve ever wondered where all those Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish that flew off shelves in the early 2000s have gone, take a look inside a Flying Fish restaurant. Each location of the southern seafood chain is home to its own Big Mouth Billy Bass Adoption Center, and they’re always accepting new additions to the collection.

According to Atlas Obscura, the gimmick was the idea of Dallas-based restaurateur Shannon Wynne. He opened his flagship Flying Fish in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2002 when the Big Mouth Billy Bass craze was just starting to wind down. As people grew tired of hearing the first 30 seconds of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” for the thousandth time, he offered them a place to bring their wall ornaments once the novelty wore off. The Flying Fish promises to “house, shelter, love, and protect” each Billy Bass they adopt. On top of that, donors get a free basket of catfish in exchange for the contribution and get their name on the wall. The Little Rock location now displays hundreds of the retired fish.

Today there are nine Flying Fish restaurants in Arkansas, Texas, and Tennessee, each with its own Adoption Center. There’s still space for new members of the family, so now may be the time to break out any Billy Basses that have been collecting dust in your attic since 2004.

And if you’re interested in stopping into Flying Fish for a bite to eat, don’t let the wall of rubber nostalgia scare you off: The batteries from all the fish have been removed, so you can enjoy your meal in peace.

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