Not all that long ago, I found out that my wife’s grandfather was an architect, who happened to design Fiji’s first major airport passenger terminal. If you think getting to Fiji and Australia is hard today, imagine what it was like in 1958. Better yet, it’s more fun to show you.

At a cost of £630, traveling from London to Australia in 1958 required 130 weeks worth of the average wages, six stops, 35 hours of actual flight time and more than 60 hours of constant travel.  That’s a lot more than any “around the world” flight found today, and speaks volumes to the democratization of travel.

Here’s a relayed first hand account of the journey, using original photographs, menus and boarding passes from his 1958 flight, and a few bits from similar trips around the time.

The Route + Boarding Passes

Making a whopping six stops, this journey began at London Heathrow before connecting in New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and Fiji, many of which featured overnight connections.

This epic journey spanned 60 hours of travel on what was known as the Southern Cross route, a major advancement of its time. You could also fly the opposite direction, along what’s known as the Kangaroo Route, taking you entirely around the world with stops in Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo and Tripoli.

Do you think we could be trusted to write down our own real seating assignment in the modern world? Back then, you could. I know where I’d be sitting… every time. At least they used pen!

A fascinating hand written receipt for First Class travel around the world for £630. As I mentioned, it sounds like a steal now, but it was the equivalent of 130 weeks salary then. Imagine two plus years of pay stubs just to take a single journey?

Thank goodness work was paying! Note, the itinerary fails to mention all the stops he would encounter in both directions!

Though it’s easy enough to get a letter corrected these days, apparently name changes were far easier then than they are today! I find it fascinating that there is no “to” or “from” included. You have to wonder how many people ended up on the wrong flight?!

I’m sure Dom appreciated the service charge voucher. Fortunately, these charges are incorporated in the cost of our tickets today.

I just love the styling of these boarding passes. And Seat A1. That never gets old.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of arriving home to find your luggage in tact.

Hard to imagine that the stops above are just half the journey! What a flight! How many points would this make in today’s frequent flyer programs?!

The Planes + Seats

Sadly, photography was not as advanced or accessible then as it is now. These photos of the jets and First Class on British Airways and Qantas in the 1950’s are the only pictures not from Dom’s original materials.

He would have likely flown a De Havilland Comet from British Airways and a Lockheed Super Constellation from Qantas with similar or identical seating. Not bad, not bad at all…

Game of cards anyone? With proper martini’s and full sized dining surfaces, it certainly looks like a wonderful experience – if not a very long one.

The Super Constellation is an incredibly important piece of aviation history. What a gorgeous bird.

You’ll need at least that much pitch for more than 35 hours of actual flight time and over 60 hours of travel one way! Perhaps a few martinis from the stunning food and beverage menus below helped…

Food + Drink

I can smell breakfast already. I wonder if they fresh squeezed the juices? Coffee and tea had to be a lot better on a plane then than they are now….

I’m willing to bet even James Bond himself would be jealous of the Martinis served. Or the cigarettes! Gin and gin mixes… I’m very curious.

Ah, the crisp taste of a refreshment voucher. British Airways, really did take good care of people!

What a beautifully designed menu. I, for one, would love to know what a Grand Vin Du Bourgogne tasted like in 1958! I love the very basic, but bold and clean flavors used on the menu. I have to wonder what an airplane galley offered as far as cooking capabilities in 1958. And again, cigarettes on a plane! (Enlargeable image here).

A beer for twenty five cents and a martini for fifty cents.

What a sophisticated and stylish menu! I absolutely love it.

The Experience

It’s fascinating that with overnight stopovers, airlines delivered these personal messages about accommodations and onward events. Laura’s father, James, even told me that hotels would send telegraphs on Dom’s behalf to let the family know that he had arrived here or departed there. What a different time.

And finally, if you really want to “feel it”. Look no further than this flight log (enlarge here) which states the speed, cruising altitude and remarks about wind and other events. This particular flight from Sydney to Nadi Airport in Fiji, which flew at 16,000 feet at a speed of 300mph, while being assisted with a Northwest tail wind blowing at roughly 15mph.

My thoughts

I’ve mentioned how dangerous it is to photograph your boarding pass, but it doesn’t mean you should throw it away. What a real treat to feel the experience of air travel more than fifty years ago, on a flight that few are brave enough to endure in the modern world. I love the fonts, the colors, the menus, but I certainly think we’ve come a long way with the seats. Thanks James, and of course, thanks Dom for treasuring these, I certainly do.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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14 Comments

  1. I flew from Southampton to Naivasha(Kenya) on a BOAC Sunderland Flying Boat in 1949!!
    No overnight stops, but re-fueling stops in Catania, Italy, Alexandria, Egypt, Khartoum, Sudan on the Nile and finally Naivasha, about 90 miles from Nairobi.
    All this at 9000 ft. Not very comfortable flying down the Rift Valley at that height! No pressurized aircraft in those days!
    The plane itself was very comfortable with large windows and a bar on the upper deck…….yes, and smoking too.

  2. Excellent post and photography. I am a romantic at heart, and still ask for a boarding pass to be printed for some of my non-routine flights. I keep menus, amenities, and general mementos from most trips, and hope that in 50 years’ time, they will bring the same level of joy as the ones you’ve just shared with us.

  3. It wasn’t all that long ago (early-90s) that commercial aircraft had a “smoking section”, but you’d have to go back to at least the early 1960s to have a complimentary four-pack of cigarettes furnished with your meal. Writing here as someone who smoked cigarettes for 40 years (until 1996), I can thankfully say I don’t miss it one damn bit! (And consider myself very-lucky to be alive!)

  4. The world back then was soooo different. Different in that people who did travel by air were civilized. No flip flops, tank tops, pajama pants, saggy pants. It was suits with ties for men (not obligatory but people were just that way) and ladies in dresses and make up (I doubt one saw exposed bellies, nose rings, and hideous tattoos on surprising areas of flesh to shock the senses). Adults you saw flying in the day were, well, adults and all that entailed. A world now long gone. We see 8 billion on the planet today vice 2 billion back then, and bus men’s holiday transport network in the skies along with behavior, appearance of the uncouth and nasty. I know, I flew my first flight in 1962, albeit economy.

  5. Great post and what a lovely look back as the past 🙂

    It’s a bit nerdy-nostalgic (even by my standards) but i still have every paper boarding pass from every flight I’ve ever taken and a good selection of menus.

  6. Fascinating article – I too can remember the days when smoking was permitted in planes (and if you were stuck in economy it meant being at the back immersed in a fog!). One thing I’d mention though is that, according to the Bank of England inflation calculator, £630 in 1958 is the equivalent of 14,829.73 in 2019 – still more expensive than today but not quite 2 years salary 🙂

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