A History of Leisure Air Travel

It has been just over a century since the first scheduled air passenger service took to the skies.  On 1st January 1914, not long before the world was plunged into war, a flying boat designed by Thomas Benoist made the 21-mile journey across Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg to Tampa, reducing what had hitherto been a two-hour journey by boat to a twenty-minute trip.  A few months later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Trygve Gran made the first flight out of sight of land, from Aberdeenshire in Scotland to Klep near Stavanger, in Norway.

In the inter-war period the concept of passenger aviation developed exponentially, although as a mode of transport for leisure it remained well out of the reach of most people.  The war itself understandably hampered the progress of civilian air travel between different countries, however the acceleration in technological invention necessitated by hostilities laid the foundations for a revolution in transport and travel.

Air Travel for the Masses

The end of the Second World War heralded a new era of peace and international co-operation.  The demands of the conflict had seen the first jet-powered aircraft developed by the UK, the USA and Germany, and it was natural that this technology would henceforth be channelled into the advancement of civil aviation.  In 1952 the de Havilland Comet became the first jet aircraft to enter commercial service carrying passengers from London to Johannesburg for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).  With the demobilisation of service personnel by the Royal Air Force there was, of course, no shortage of pilots.

Throughout the ensuing decades air travel became increasingly within the reach of more and more households, and the holiday abroad progressively moved away from being a thing enjoyed only by the wealthy to an aspiration for the middle and working classes.  British holidaymakers who hitherto had flocked to the coasts at home began to consider Greece, Portugal and sunny Spain as viable options for a family getaway.

New Innovations in Aviation

1970 saw the introduction into service of the Boeing 747, commonly known as the “jumbo”, which could ferry almost 500 passengers on long-range flights.  Within a few years most of the big airlines had 747s amongst their fleet, and its popularity allowed for a dramatic increase in popular travel between the continents.

A few years later in 1976 the Anglo-French supersonic aircraft Concorde made its first scheduled passenger flight, and services were inaugurated between both London and Paris, and the United States.  The Soviet Union produced a similar aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-144, which was used for long-haul flights within the vast territory of the USSR.  Sadly though the cost of travelling on Concorde was prohibitive and it never became viable as a tool of leisure rather than just of business, and it was eventually scrapped.

The Low-Cost Revolution

In later years economies of scale and clever marketing and pricing enabled the proliferation of the budget airlines, made most famous at home by Ryanair and easyJet.  Once this had happened there was no obstacle left to ordinary people who wanted to travel abroad for their vacations.  Even holiday operators invested in their own fleets, and by using more provincial airports both at point of destination and of arrival a completely new world of air travel had been opened up.