Nowhereland: Yesterday’s Flights of Tomorrow

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Commercial air travel began as a loud and frigid experience. In the 1930s, it cost half the price of a car for a round trip ticket from coast to coast in a plane that wasn’t pressurized, flying at low altitudes only to be tossed by the wind and the weather.

That didn’t stop people from imagining what air travel could be. Despite its turbulent beginnings, it opened a new realm of possibilities for innovations in technology and luxury experiences. It became a catalyst for engineers, architects and fashion designers to imagine the future of aerial transportation in modern society. Some ideas, like a high-speed rail between terminals or automated airport check-in, would become integral features of the airport as we know it. Others… not so much.

Here are two twentieth-century visions for modern air travel that never did (and probably never will) come to pass.

The Downtown Airport, circa 1934


More than a few architects imagined the future of airports downtown in city centers, just not at street level.

In one 1934 edition of Popular Science Monthly, an unknown architect proposes to extend a landing dock from the Westminster to the Lambeth Bridge, covering the entire width of this landmark river. In its defense, the dock would have been high enough to fit the tallest masts of ships. Yet it also would have been virtually useless to the large aircrafts and multi-engine propeller planes that would fill the skies a decade later.

The Supersonic Jet, circa 1975

Commercial aviation became more comfortable after 1955 and within decades passenger numbers more than quadrupled. With the growth of airlines and their customer base came new dreams for the flight experience of the future. Braniff International saw the future in supersonic jets.

This 1968 promotional video imagines supersonic commercial air travel by 1975, complete with a video phone, a food button, a new topical cure for headaches and more. While the video’s Jetsons-like presentation of these imagined innovations is enough to make any flip phone seem technologically far-fetched, some of the future plane’s comforts, like simultaneous movie screenings, have come to pass.

Despite being a symbol for the future of commercial aviation, the supersonic Concorde Jet remained too expensive to serve the general public. Still, the prospects of supersonic aviation are still alive. Major airways predict that a new supersonic jet will be on the market by 2030. If it can fly from New York to London in three hours or less, we can only hope that it will also come with food buttons and a robot-operated laundry service.

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