The Jet Age (1958 - Today)

"When a tired businessman gets on an airplane, we think he ought to be allowed to look at a pretty girl."

-Mary Wells, mastermind behind Braniff ad campaign, quoted in Business Week, 1967

Air Travel in a Changing America

Sweeping cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s reshaped the airline industry. More people began to fly, and air travel became less exclusive.

By the beginning of the 1960s, America was undergoing rapid social change. The nation was becoming increasingly homogeneous. Retail franchises were eliminating distinctive regional characteristics. Television reached into most homes.

The automobile was transforming cities, and suburbs were consuming huge expanses of rural land. The interstate highway system was spreading across the nation, and a growing web of jetliner routes linked the country. Traveling from coast to coast now took as little as five hours.

Airport filled with people
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Who Flew?

Between 1955 and 1972, passenger numbers more than quadrupled. By 1972 almost half of all Americans had flown, although most passengers were still business travelers. A small percentage became repeat travelers, or "frequent flyers."

"Jetting" across the Atlantic briefly became highly fashionable and prestigious, and a new breed of travelers-the "Jet Set"-emerged. But falling fares in the 1970s allowed many more people to fly and undermined the exclusivity of jet travel.

Changing Styles

Stewardess Uniforms
Braniff Collection, The University of Texas at Dallas

Airlines were not allowed to set their own air fares, so they used in-flight amenities and even stylish uniforms to attract passengers.

The growing popularity of air travel provoked fierce competition for passengers. Because air fares were government regulated, airlines resorted to attracting passengers, especially businessmen, with such amenities as better food, drinks, and movies.

Flight attendant uniforms evolved from conservative and military in appearance to colorful and stylish, reflecting the changing social attitudes of the 1960s. To appeal to the male majority of travelers, airlines introduced miniskirts and hot pants, to the dismay of many flight attendants.

In-Flight Movie
United Airlines

With the advent of large jets, movies became an increasingly popular way to entertain passengers on long-distance flights.


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In 1968, United hired noted fashion designer Jean Louis to create a stylish line of flight attendant uniforms.

Pucci Bubble Helmet
Braniff Collection, The University of Texas at Dallas

Innovative advertising executive Mary Wells transformed Braniff Airways' image in the mid-1960s through a campaign announcing the "End of the Plain Plane." As part of this change, Braniff broke with tradition and introduced brightly colored aircraft as well as imaginative new uniforms created by famed fashion designer Emilio Pucci. The plastic bubble helmet, to protect hairdos on windy tarmacs, was an integral part of the Pucci-designed uniforms.

Calder DC-8

Flying Art

In the early 1970s, to promote travel to South America, Braniff Airlines hired American artist Alexander Calder to create a flying work of art. He first experimented on scale airplane models before painting his final design on a jetliner. Calder favored bright colors, especially yellow, orange, red, and blue. He used paint specially made to withstand high speed, high altitude, and weather. Can you see the artist's signature?