The Evolution of the Passenger Plane

picture of two Centennial College students working on an airplane engine

Today, we hop on a plane and are quite used to the lack of legroom, tiny bathrooms, and usually full overhead compartments. However, passenger planes weren't always that efficient. At one time, they had lounges, sleeping berths and pianos and seat-side meat carving (I can't make this up). If you’re wondering how passenger planes have evolved over time, read on.

Dec. 10, 1913

On Dec. 10, 1913 the first airliner took to the skies. The Russian Sikorsky Ilya Muromets was a luxurious aircraft that had a separate passenger saloon, wicker chairs, bedroom, lounge and a toilet. It was also heated and outfitted with electrical lighting. On Feb. 25, 1914, the plane took off for its first demonstration flight with 16 passengers aboard. However, it was never used as a commercial airliner due to the onset of World War I.

1915 to 1921

From 1915 to 1921, various advancements were made to passenger airliners in places such as Britain, Argentina, Netherlands and France. By the 1930s, the airline industry had matured and national airlines were established with international services. A few you may recognize included Lufthansa in Germany, KLM in the Netherlands and United Airlines in America.

1940s

Despite the growth of airlines, flying in the 1940s wasn't very glamorous. Sure, planes such as the Boeing Stratocruiser had a "beautifully appointed" ladies' lounge and reclining springy club chairs with the ability for every seat in the main cabin to be adjusted and manipulated to form sleeping berths for each passenger. But according to the Air and Space Museum in the U.S., flying was expensive, loud and unsettling. For example, to communicate with passengers cabin crew often had to resort to speaking through small megaphones to be heard above the din of the engines and the wind.

1949

The world's first commercial jetliner was the de Havilland DH 106 Comet, developed in the United Kingdom, with its first flight in 1949. It featured large picture window views, table seating accommodations, a galley that could serve hot and cold food and drinks, a bar, and separate men and women's toilets. The Comet's safety features, such as life vests stowed under each seat, are still used today. A series of accidents put the Comet out of business and the American Boeing 707 truly ushered in the age of jet travel, according to the BBC.

1970s and 1980s

In the 1970s and 1980s, flying went fancy. Southern Airways offered first class touches to every passenger, including cushy pillows and free-flowing alcohol, Pan Am's 707 Clippers served restaurant quality meals served seat-side by a chef who carved your meat before your eyes (lobster was considered plane food), American Airlines' planes featured a piano lounge, and Continental had a pub area with a walk-up bar and swivel chairs, just to name a few.

1990s and 2000s

The 1990s and 2000s brought on a truly digital era with the introduction of airline ticket being sold online and the first web-based passenger check-in and online boarding passes in the 90s and, more recently, personal TVs and wi-fi on flights. Smoking was banned in 1998, by the way.

If you are just as interested in what makes a plane tick as you are in its interior, Centennial College has the program for you. The Aviation Technician – Avoinics Maintenance program teaches students about complex electronics and electrical systems related to the navigation, guidance, communications and flight controls of an aircraft. Grads are prepared to work as bench technicians in avionics-approved shops at a variety of aviation organizations, including general aviation, manufacturing, repair, overhaul and airlines.

By Izabela Szydlo

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