Has air travel really improved in the last 60 years?

It is often taken for granted that things get better with the passage of time. This is especially true when it comes to technology. The strides made over the last 40 years in the realm of personal computing, cellular telephony and many other high-tech fields have been truly amazing. The vast majority of humans who have ever lived would be unable to distinguish many modern amenities from magic.

Yet, the incredible advances in some technologies obscure the fact that, in many ways, we aren’t living all that much differently than people did at the end of the 1950s. In fact, as astonishing as it may seem, in some ways, we are living considerably worse. For instance, those without a high school education in the year 1960 could often find work sufficient not only to easily support themselves but to buy a typical middle-class home and start a family. In 1960, as few as 11 percent of young adults aged 25-34 still lived at home with their parents. Today, that number has soared to nearly 35 percent. Many of these young adults effectively have no prospects of ever owning their own home.

But an even starker example of things having failed to improve and even, by many standards, gotten worse, is the field of air travel. It’s no secret that in the late 1950’s, the beginning of the jet age, air travel was widely viewed as glamorous. Many airliners had amenities like lounges, bars and even sleeping quarters that simply aren’t present on most modern jets.

Few know, however, that jet travel in the late 1950’s, over 60 years ago, was actually considerably faster than it is today even for non-supersonic planes. The Convair 990, for instance, averaged about 100 mph faster than modern jets. This translated to coast-to-coast flight times that were up to an hour shorter. In 60 years of evolution, jet travel has actually gotten slower. That’s some progress!