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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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No golden age of air travel

Whenever somebody gets nostalgic about the past, I get suspicious. In the eigth century BC, Hesiod was already moaning about how things aint like they used to be.

The Wall Street Journal has a great article about how nostalgic people get for the way air travel used to be in the 1950s -- with more leg room, less hassle and more romance.

Piffle. Compard with today, it was expensive, dangerous and slow:

The piston-driven planes of those days, like the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-7, were noisy and often ferociously bumpy. They couldn't fly over storms and turbulence the way jet-powered airplanes can. Engine failures were more frequent. So were crashes. And the cost of a ticket was affordable for only an elite few.

The 1960s were no picnic either:

In one month alone-January 1969-eight airliners were hijacked to Cuba... The fatal accident rate per departure in 1969 was 13 times higher than in 2009.

Here's the Journal's remarkable table comparing different eras in flight:

 

1949 1959 1969 2009
Typical plane Douglas DC-3; Convair 240 Lockheed Constellation; Douglas DC-6 and DC-7 Boeing 707 and 727; Douglas DC-8 and DC-9 Boeing 737; Airbus A320
Typical cruise speed 150 mph 300 mph 500-600 mph 500-600 mph
Average price to fly one mile* $0.57 $0.44 $0.34 $0.14
New York-Los Angeles one-way fare* $1,447 $785 N/A $298
Passengers on U.S. airlines 16.7 million 60.3 million 171.9 million 769.5 million
Number of flights 2.3 million 3.9 million 5.4 million 10.1 million
Fatal accidents per 100,000 departures 2.868 1.653 1.302 0.098
Net profit (loss) for U.S. airlines ($42 million) ($25 million) $409 million ($4 billion)