CLOSE
Original image
getty images

10 Things We No Longer See at Airports

Original image
getty images

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

Thinkstock

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


Thinkstock

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

Thinkstock

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

1st Dibs

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


Thinkstock

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


Thinkstock

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

Getty Images

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.

arrow
Art
Artist Makes Colorful Prints From 1990s VHS Tapes

A collection of old VHS tapes offers endless crafting possibilities. You can use them to make bird houses, shelving units, or, if you’re London-based artist Dieter Ashton, screen prints from the physical tape itself.

As Co.Design reports, the recent London College of Communication graduate was originally intrigued by the art on the cover of old VHS and cassette tapes. He planned to digitally edit them as part of a new art project, but later realized that working with the ribbons of tape inside was much more interesting.

To make a print, Ashton unravels the film from cassettes and VHS tapes collected from his parents' home. He lets the strips fall randomly then presses them into tight, tangled arrangements with the screen. The piece is then brought to life with vibrant patterns and colors.

Ashton has started playing with ways to incorporate themes and motifs from the films he's repurposing into his artwork. If the movie behind one of his creations isn’t immediately obvious, you can always refer to its title. His pieces are named after movies like Backdraft, Under Siege, and that direct-to-video Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen classic Passport to Paris.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

Screen print made from an old VHS tape.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of Dieter Ashton

Original image
iStock
arrow
fun
The Hole Story: A History of Skee-Ball
Original image
iStock

In the early 1900s, the thing Joseph Fourestier Simpson desired most was to create something people respected. A career hustler—real estate agent, cash register salesman, and railroad clerk were just a few of the many jobs he held—Simpson longed to invent something he could patent that would have lasting appeal.

A handful of his inventions made minor waves: He perfected an egg crate that could protect shells during bumpy transportation routes, and created a new kind of trunk clasp that kept luggage tightly shut. None of it made him rich, but one invention in particular would at least gain him some national recognition. It was a ramp that could be set up in arcades and amusement parks, a kind of modified form of bowling that allowed players to lob a wooden ball over a bump and into a hole with a pre-assigned point value. He dubbed it Skee-Ball after the skee (ski) hills—and especially the ski jumps—that were then becoming popular in American culture.

Simpson filed for a patent in 1907 and received it in 1908. Later, he would see his Skee-Ball become a popular and pervasive attraction along the Atlantic City Boardwalk, in Philadelphia, and across the country. But Simpson wouldn’t see any profit from it. In fact, he'd suffer financial ruin. Even worse, history would become muddled to the point where most people wouldn’t even realize it was Simpson who had invented it.

Historic Images - Lancashire via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Up until recently, it was common for accounts of Skee-Ball’s history to name Princeton University alumnus J. Dickinson Este as the man behind the game. As the story goes, Este was motivated to find an inventive birthday gift for his son in 1909 and decided to craft an alley for a small, handheld ball using lumber he had obtained from his father’s successful wood business, and Skee-Ball was born.

The problem? Virtually none of it appears to be true. According to Thaddeus Cooper and Kevin Kreitman, co-authors of the recently-released Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball, Este was the beneficiary of Simpson’s innovation, but not the innovator. The authors cite their five years of research into the game’s origins and a key discovery at New Jersey's Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, where, among other papers, Simpson’s 1908 patent for the machine resides.

“The history has become really muddled, at least on the internet,” Cooper tells Mental Floss. “Este, for one thing, didn’t have a son in 1909. He had twin daughters, much later on.”

Accounts seem to have conflated two different events: Simpson’s invention and Este’s later acquisition of the Skee-Ball business. After Simpson noticed the amusements industry taking off, he invented and patented the device; he and his partners, John Harper and William Nice, started marketing it to potential operators. None of the men were marketers, however, and they were never quite able to adopt the kind of salesmanship nor the resources needed to make Skee-Ball a household term. “It was your typical start-up problem,” Kreitman says. “They had the idea but not the money.”

iStock

Simpson’s pockets ran dry; by 1911, he had even lost his house and was staying with friends. Este, who had been playing and enjoying the game in Philadelphia, rented some space near Princeton and installed a handful of alleys. When he saw that students were tripping over themselves to play, he decided to make a substantial investment—about $30,000 to $50,000 in today’s dollars—in the game. By 1914, he owned all rights and began an aggressive marketing effort using his wealthy family’s connections in the Pennsylvania news media.

“It was aggressive,” Cooper says. “You’d see ads with actual photographs, which was rare for amusement ads at the time. The copy would say something like, ‘Everybody is playing. Where have you been?’”

The hard sell worked. Soon, outlets like The New York Times were taking notice of the Skee-Ball craze spreading from the east coast. Co-ed tournaments sprung up; in Atlantic City, people seemed to be enjoying it a little too much, with the city clamping down on “noisy amusements” operating on Sundays.

Still, Skee-Ball was becoming a hit, thanks in part to a key design change prompted during the Depression. Originally built with a 32- to 36-foot-long ramp, the machines were cleaved in half so operators could fit the alleys into smaller, more affordable venues (10 feet is now the standard length). Not having to launch the ball such a long distance helped attract more kids to the game, who—along with adults—were plunking down an endless stream of nickels so they could get their nine balls and attempt to sink them. Prizes or tickets redeemable for prizes would be awarded to winners.

By this point, Este had exited the amusements business, selling his interest to his partners. By 1935, Skee-Ball was under the Wurlitzer umbrella. The jukebox maker had realized that Simpson’s device was outperforming their music libraries in several locations.

“They thought they would make a killing,” Kreitman tells Mental Floss. “They ramped up production and produced 5000 machines in 1937 alone.”

What Wurlitzer didn’t quite realize was that the machines made in the decades prior were so durable that they rarely needed replacing. “It took them about seven years to sell their stock,” Kreitman says.

Ownership changed again in 1945, when the Philadelphia Toboggan Company purchased Skee-Ball, and didn’t pass to other hands until 1985, when a businessman named Joe Sladek purchased it. Each owner has pursued Skee-Ball as a result of its considerable longevity and appeal, even though some local administrations have occasionally taken issue with the devices and their loose flirtation with gambling.

“I know at some point in Chicago some cops came in and chopped Skee-Ball machines apart with axes, then tossed them out the back door,” Cooper says.

Ryan Basilio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Remarkably, Skee-Ball has remained largely unchanged for the past 110 years. Cooper says that Simpson’s early concept designs strongly resemble today's machines. It’s still a very analog experience: Pitch the ball, and hope you hit a high-scoring target.

In 2016, Skee-Ball changed hands once more, this time to the Bay-Tek company. It’s estimated that more than 125,000 machines are in operation today, with many locations organizing loose tournaments. Brewskee-Ball has made a name for itself as a leading competition league. Players can—and usually do—drink while playing, with winners receiving a cream-colored jacket and trophy as proof of their Skee-Ball prowess. Like roller derby participants, they favor colorful player names like Brewbacca and Monica LewinSkee and play during “skeesons.” (Back in March, Brewbacca was the focus of an ABC News digital feature.)

While some machines dating back to the 1940s are still in operation in a few locations, Cooper says he and Kreitman have yet to come across any of the original models from either Simpson or Este.

Simpson died in 1930, living long enough to see Skee-Ball become a popular pastime but unable to reap the financial rewards he had worked so hard to try and achieve.

“He was 57 when he invented it,” Kreitman says. “He saw the success, but never saw the financial benefits.”

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios