The Evolution of the Airline Cabin

In the early days of commercial passenger flights, the airline cabin wasn't the comfortable experience it is today. Although scheduled passenger flights had been available since 1910, these were often short basic services that allowed fast travel between major cities and airports. Therefore, development was slow. The public were initially scared to fly and the frequent turbulence from these early commercial planes made airsickness very common.

However, when the First World War began, armies were quick to invest into the development of the airplane, increasing capabilities and opening the doors for the first commercial airline passengers. Join us as we delve into the history of the airline cabin and how it has changed from the early days of air flight to the modern, technology packed cabins of today.


When the First World War ended and the Air Commerce Act of 1925 was initiated, airlines began to use significantly improved planes to perform regular scheduled passenger flights, allowing the public to fly for the first time. In the same year, the silent film 'The Lost World' was shown to passengers on a Imperial Airways flight between London (from Croydon airport) and Paris, becoming the first British in-flight film (pictured). It wasn't until later in the decade that airlines began to employ male flight attendants to make flights more enjoyable. Along with serving drinks and reassuring passengers, these early flight attendants also provided new tickets when a flight was unfortunately cancelled or delayed.


In 1938, Boeing revealed the 307 Stratoliner, claimed to have the most elegant and advanced cabin of its' time. The Stratoliner was the first commercial aircraft with a pressurised, acclimatised cabin which provided air conditioning and heating throughout flights. Passengers had their very own compartments, sleeping berths and windows with a dedicated lounge located further along the cabin.

Flying boats, previously used during the war, were quickly adapted and used for commercial flights. The impressive Boeing 314 Clipper, introduced later in the decade in 1939, was described as a flying luxury hotel with full-sized dining rooms available for passengers (pictured). These models also had a honeymoon suite available, with a bar, full-service galley, passenger compartments with plush chairs, sleeping berths and vanity rooms.


Although the Second World War had slowed commercial flights to a halt, the airplane cabin was evolved yet again with new technological advances. In 1940, the American airline TWA were the first airline to provide commercial broadcast radio programmes to their passengers in-flight. The radio receivers were built into the pillow headrests with radio controls built in to the arm rests. Later, in 1947, Boeing announced its 337 Stratocruiser, the refined and elegant successor to the 1938 Stratoliner (pictured). The first of its kind, the Stratocruiser was a double-decked airplane that included a cocktail lounge and snack bar on its lower deck. Seven course meals were also available from a fully-equipped galley in the back of the plane.


At this time, air travel was more popular than ever. BOAC even offered portable hammock cots for babies. Called 'sky cots', these odd creations hung just above the passenger seat attached to the luggage rack in the cabin.


The onset of the swinging sixties brought a whole new era of in-flight entertainment and luxury to the airline cabin. In 1961, TWA became the first airline to project films on regular scheduled flights with the recently invented 16mm film format. Later, the Douglas DC-9, a benchmark in commercial air travel, had its first flight on February 25th 1965. The Douglas DC-9 became the standard airline model used by airlines all the way up to 2008. On March 2nd, 1969, Concorde successfully completed its very first flight. It later became the pinnacle of airline travel and a privilege for the rich.


In 1971, 8mm film cassettes allowed air attendants to change movies mid-flight, and offered passengers a much wider choice of programmes, films and other video to watch in-flight. An unusual and interesting move from Braniff Airways in 1975 was a partnership with the games company Atari. Game consoles were available to passengers, allowing them to play popular games such as Pong in-flight.


A lot of the innovation that we see in today's modern cabins started appearing in the 1980s. In 1988, Northwest Airlines were the first to add in-seat LCD monitors on their Boeing 747 fleet. However, a little earlier in 1987, the first Airbus A320 airplane successfully achieved its first flight. The Airbus was a groundbreaking airplane, allowing more passengers and also allowing for a better flying experience.


In 1998, smoking was banned on all domestic flights. A little later in 2008, Europe cleared mobile phones on airlines. As a consequence, today's modern cabins offer a wide range of features for passengers. Most airplanes come installed with free wifi and on-demand video/audio screens which even include a wide range of movies and games. Some airlines even provide blu-ray players. USB jacks are now provided, allowing you to charge your devices directly in-flight.