May 3, 2016.   Memories of Widebodies Past.


This old National Airlines timetable from 1973 — part of my timetable collection — makes me nostalgic for the days when widebody planes were the norm on U.S. domestic flights. When I was a kid in the late 1970s and into the 80s, coast-to-coast flights were always on DC-10s, L-1011s, or, in many cases, 747s, with seating for up to 500 people. Even on shorter trips widebodies were common. I grew up in Boston (where I live still), and American Airlines flew DC-10s between here and Chicago, and even to Bermuda; Eastern flew L-1011s to Orlando and San Juan; Delta L-1011s would take you to Bermuda, Atlanta, and Miami. Northwest used DC-10s between Boston and Minneapolis, Detroit, and at one point even to Washington, D.C. I once flew from Boston to JFK on a TWA L-1011. Eastern operated its famous Shuttle between BOS and LGA using Airbus A300s with more than 250 seats! And so on. Nowadays, on pretty much all of these routes, you’ll find yourself on a much smaller 737, an A320, or even a regional jet. A 757 if you’re lucky. More people are flying than ever before, it’s true, but the average aircraft size has been steadily shrinking. What’s happened is that the U.S. airline industry has fragmented. There are more airlines flying between more cities. Also, starting in 1979, Deregulation meant that carriers could no longer fly around huge planes with only half of the seats taken and still make money. And nowadays, frequency has become the name of the game. Why offer three daily nonstops to LAX using 300-seat planes, when you can offer six flights using 150-seat planes? Among the downsides of this evolution is that it’s clogged up our airspace and airports. Sure, there are more flights to more cities. There also are more delays.

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