Then, in the midst of a post-war era, commercial planes came onto the scene and changed transatlantic travel forever. In 1952, the DH-106 Comet, the first commercial jet aircraft, completed a long-haul journey from London to Johannesburg. Soon after, for the price of a ticket well out of reach for the everyman, one could travel in comfort and arrive overseas in less than 24 hours. Popular routes connected New York City to London, Paris and Rome. Flights included ample legroom, lobster dinners and unlimited free drinks. Passengers would dress up for flights in their finest suits, dresses and furs — a glamourous affair that was punctuated by prim stewardesses.
Both international and domestic flights during the 1950s also meant cigarette smoke-filled cabins, where patches of mild turbulence could cause whiplash and shatter the glass divider that separated first class and economy. Drawbacks aside, more people were exploring far-off places and returning home with souvenirs for loved ones.
Over the decades that followed, technological advancements in aviation made for safer and smoother flights. Meanwhile, air travel became more accessible to the average person. A drop in fares followed the U.S. government’s 1978 decision to deregulate the country’s airline industry, and the Open Skies Agreement of 1979 lifted regulations for international travel. Today we fly more frequently than ever before. Each year billions of people pass through the familiar haunts of international airport terminals — brightly lit arenas lined with shops and cafés filled with anxious travellers.
“Social media inundates us with images that serve as the coffee mugs and fridge magnets of the modern era.”
And while flights of the post-war era were spent writing postcards to pass the time, the modern explorer shares photos in real time. Social media inundates us with images — our version of travel tokens — that serve as the coffee mugs and fridge magnets of the modern era. Hashtags like #WellTravelled grant us increasing access and visibility to far off places. And with that, the desire to expand our horizons continues to grow.
As jet streams increasingly populate the skies and our digital connectivity provides a broader, closer look at the edges of the world, we keep searching for new experiences — new forms of souvenirs to bring back home. Travel in a sense is like the last vestige of our childhood selves. It’s how we momentarily gain back the sense of wonderment we once had while exploring in the backyard as kids. Yet no matter how drastic the leaps we have made in advancing commercial flight, the travel experience in some ways remains immutable. We’re reaching out beyond ourselves to see something new and to bring back a token of remembrance.
*As seen in The Journal — a complimentary Herschel Supply print publication that celebrates design and travel. Find Issue 08 (Spring/Summer 2017) at select global stockists.