The stewardess, er, flight attendant, flush with first-day jitters, passes through the cabin practicing her routine on imaginary passengers: greeting them (“Friendly to the welcome skies,” she says nervously. “No, wait...”), adjusting their seat belts, and asking how they’d like their beef cooked. What?Cooked meat?What airline is this?A better question: What year is this?
1982, it turns out. This is an ad for United Airlines, and it’s just one of the treasures squirreled away on YouTube. Individually they’re just sponsored videos, but in the aggregate they’re a unique museum of aviation history. An electronic docent leads us from commercial air travel’s early years (“Here’s what a plane’s interior looks like.”) through its glamorous age (who knew that United’s DC-10’s once had a lounge...in coach?!) and on to the more recognizable years of necessity (“I have 15 meetings in 15 cities in 15 days—who can get me there?”).
Some of these commercials help us remember much-loved airlines (RIP, People Express). Others—many of them—tug at the heartstrings with 30-second tales of families separated by business and reunited by careful pilots and caring ticket agents (please).
But it’s the funny spots that really suck us in, so we’ve compiled 10 of our favorites. Some, of course, were made to be funny. Others are amusing for their outdated mores...or hairstyles. Yet all offer a fun flashback to a different era—when even on the surliest airline the skies were indeed a friendlier place.