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Air Charter and the Good (And Bad) Old Days of Air Travel

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Those Were the Days.  Or Were They?

The adage “The older we get, the better we were” speaks to a truism of human nature; time smooths the edges of our memories, often making past events seem better than they were.  Air travel is no different. Everything was ostensibly better back in the day.  The food was incredible, the seats were roomy, passengers and crew alike were relaxed and pleasant.  

The cabins were also full of cigarette smoke, passengers and baggage were largely unscreened, aircraft were less safe, crews were not as well-trained, and some cabin crew “uniforms” were polyester hot pants or miniskirts (YIKES!), hardly appropriate attire for the aviation professionals of today. Still, there is a certain romanticism associated with sauntering around the cabin with a whiskey a la Don Draper in one hand, cigarette dangling from the other, swapping stories with other well-fed and nicotine-dependent passengers.  In this blog we tease out the good stuff about air travel that we miss from the dreadful things that are better left in the dustbin of history.  Happily, the things we used to enjoy about flying are still available when you book a private jet and fly private, versus the outright scary things that used to (somehow) be ok on airline flights.


Before the cassette tape, a significant segment of the U.S. population smoked. Yeah, people liked to smoke - a lot. Everywhere. Especially when they were nervous. In the 1960s and 70s, there were more reasons to be nervous on a flight. Every seat had an ashtray, and those babies were used, quickly filling the aircraft cabin with dense, thick cigarette haze.  It would have been as hard for passengers then to imagine not smoking as it is for us now to visualize a cabin full of glowing Marbs twinkling away on a red-eye flight. 

As late as 2000, smoking was still permitted on some flights. Only then did the flying public and regulators agree that dozens of (often carelessly held) ignition sources in a pressurized, oxygen-rich environment might be a very bad idea, not to mention the very real health concerns for passengers and especially airline staff. If you MUST have that celebratory cigar, you can still do that when you fly private, although many charter aircraft owners will still prohibit smoking on their aircraft. So, score one for personal freedom to light up at 40,000 feet, but we really wish you would quit!

No Security Screening Required

On a rainy November day in 1971, a man calling himself Dan (the press added the moniker “DB”) Cooper boarded a flight in Portland, Oregon, showed what appeared to be an explosive device to flight crews, and demanded the aircraft land in Seattle. Once on the ground, Mr. Cooper demanded and received $200,000 in cash and some parachutes. About 45 minutes after departing Seattle in the hijacked aircraft, he lowered the aft air stairs, and jumped into aviation infamy, along with the two hundred grand. Subsequently, a little device was installed on B727s that prevented the aft stairs from being opened during flight. It was nicknamed the “DB Cooper” or “Cooper Vane” by airline maintenance personnel. 

Did Mr. Cooper slip through a multi-layered and robust airport security system? Not exactly. In the 1970s when you checked in for your flight it was incredibly unlikely that you would be subjected to security screening of any kind unless the check-in agent for some subjective reason didn’t like the cut of your jib. Sounds like an ineffective system? Why yes, it was. Dan Cooper simply dressed the part of an executive, complete with black tie and briefcase, just like dozens of others checking in for flights that day. Voila, DB was able to walk onboard with a head full of bad intentions.

During the 1960s and 1970s there was also a rash of hijackings. Yet, the flying public was still wholly unconvinced of the need for full passenger and baggage screening. It was only after the 911 attacks that all passengers and their baggage were screened on all commercial flights. Although nobody loves the long lines, the frozen jumping jack X-ray pose, or the silent prayer that their mouthwash container is under 3.4 fluid ounces, security is a good thing, and necessary to keep our aviation system one of the safest in the world.

Because all the passengers are known to each other, private air charter has a less rigid screening approach. For example, when you charter a business jet, passenger and baggage screening is not required. Walk from your car to the private terminal, give your name to the friendly face at the counter, get an escort to the aircraft where your pilot greets you with a smile, and walk on board. Your baggage? Oh, don't be vulgar, that was already whisked from your vehicle to said private jet. 

Even large group air charters will only require passengers and their accessible property to be screened on domestic flights between Fixed Base Operations, which are essentially private aviation terminals. Even better, motor coaches can often be parked ramp-side next to the aircraft, where passengers and accessible property are screened. Then, it’s just a short walk to the aircraft.  Checked baggage does not have to be schlepped, dragged, pulled, carried; it all gets loaded directly from the motor coaches to the aircraft. Neat, eh? The key difference is that with private air charter, the entire group is known to each other, hence the screening protocols for the flying public are unnecessary.  No DB Coopers on your flight.

What About the Service from the Good Old Days?

We’re going to have to stop you right there and direct you to a one of our previous blogs on this subject. Airlines do not have rooms full of evil executives thinking about how to make your life miserable. That type of behavior belongs in the credit card industry. Things are different, and the old days of lots of empty seats, legroom, and big “free” meals are never coming back. Nor should they. Airlines are more well-run than ever, and their focus is on the lowest seat price possible – because that is the singular metric that most consumers consider when buying a ticket. Don’t despair. If your thing is sumptuously appointed cabins, chef-prepared meals, the wine list that YOU made, call us next time to book a charter flight and we’ll make sure that your next private jet travel experience is amazing.

If the DB Cooper story has you captivated, click here to learn more.


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