Travel + Leisure is turning 50, and it's in good company: From Southwest to Amtrak to Walt Disney World, 1971 was a big year in travel.

By Patricia Doherty
July 20, 2021
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When Travel + Leisure changed its name from U.S. Travel & Camera in 1971 and adjusted its focus from travel photography to travel coverage, the editors showed impressive foresight. The travel industry was on the brink of major changes, and the prescient move positioned the magazine as the premier publication encouraging people to travel.

Sunbathers on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, June 1971
Sunbathers on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii from 1971
| Credit: Archive Photos/Getty Images

The era of "Jumbo Jets," the term for the new aircraft that more than doubled passenger capacity, had just begun. The Boeing 747's first commercial flight carried 324 passengers from New York to London on Jan. 22, 1970. That historic Pan Am flight landed at Heathrow Airport seven hours and 20 minutes after leaving John F. Kennedy Airport. The following year, American Airlines introduced the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 with a trip between Los Angeles and Chicago. In April 1972, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was delivered to Eastern Airlines.

The jumbo jets were flying more passengers, and airline fares were lower as a result. Air travel was no longer reserved only for the wealthy, and interest in travel grew. Piano lounges, bars, video games, and buffet meals, early features of jumbo jets, were soon replaced by passenger seats as demand increased. 

A Southwest Airlines airplane in 1977
Credit: Museum of Flight/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines

Not to be outdone by jumbo jets on long-haul flights,Texans Herb Kelleher and Rollin King launched Southwest Airlines, bringing low fares, brightly painted aircraft, and "toss the rulebook" style to the regional airline and attracting a wide range of travelers. Celebrating their golden anniversary this year, Southwest carried its first customers on June 18, 1971 on their Dallas, San Antonio, Houston triangle route. 

By the end of 1971, Southwest had flown 6,051 trips and carried 108,554 passengers with 195 employees. Attractive prices, "funLUVing attitude," and creative passenger benefits led to their success. For example, LUV carts were often placed in gate areas to entertain waiting passengers with contests and prizes like Southwest T-shirts, cups, and snacks. 

Fifty years later, and now offering both domestic and international routes, Southwest maintains its friendly informality with hearts painted on the bellies of its planes, open seating, free checked bags, and community involvement. Their "Adopt-a-Pilot" Program puts pilots in local classrooms using aviation to teach math, science, and geography. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, Southwest stepped in to rescue more than 500 stranded passengers. Their Hurricane Harvey Pet Lift saved the lives of pets displaced or made homeless by the storm.

Archival image of the US passenger train "Amtrak" stops on the open route in Caliente, California
Credit: Weden/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Amtrak

Amtrak — also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — began train service on May 1, 1971 with its first trip from New York to Philadelphia. Twenty private passenger railroads combined to form Amtrak's national rail network. That same year, the company opened a reservations sales office in Chicago.

Through the years, innovations like Amtrak's computerized ticket reservation system and the high-speed Acela Express between Washington D.C. and Boston added convenience. Superliner cars for long distance trains with coaches, sleeping, dining, and cafe/lounge cars made train travel more comfortable. Soon the train trip became central to the travel experience when, for example, the new California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco was rerouted to give passengers a view of the scenic Colorado River. 

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Amtrak became the primary transportation link between New York City and the nation, with the suspension of air travel. Additional cars were added to transport emergency workers, military personnel, and victims' families. When Hurricane Sandy struck the New York area, Amtrak worked to restore service by pumping out flooded tunnels, and they offered free travel to emergency and recovery effort personnel.

Today, Amtrak travels to more than 500 destinations in 46 states, with over 30 train routes, making rail service accessible to communities across America.

Walt Disney staff in front of Cinderella's Castle prior to the grand opening of Walt Disney World
Walt Disney characters and park staff posing en masse in front of Cinderella's Castle just prior to the grand opening of Walt Disney World in 1971
| Credit: Yale Joel/Life Magazine/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Walt Disney World

There was another compelling reason to travel in 1971. Walt Disney World in Orlando opened on Oct. 1, 1971, the culmination of years of work to bring Disney's vision to fruition. Walt Disney wanted to surpass California's Disneyland by creating a new and bigger concept — a family-friendly destination with a theme park, resorts, recreation, and a city of the future that he named EPCOT, Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. 

The central Florida location was selected because of the available land, weather, local airport, and ground transportation systems. More than 8,000 workers labored on the largest private commercial project in the United States. Sadly, Walt Disney died in 1966, but his brother Roy came out of retirement to lead the project to completion and the 1971 grand opening. 

The success has led to additions like water parks, campgrounds, restaurants, and shops. EPCOT opened on Oct. 1, 1982. Disney's Hollywood Studios opened in 1989 and Animal Kingdom came in 1998. More resorts have been added over the years, including the new Disney's Riviera Resort, and additional hotels are planned for the future.

Thanks to Walt Disney World, Orlando has become the nation's No. 1 theme park destination, attracting SeaWorld and Universal Studios, both of which have expanded since their arrival. In October 2011, Legoland Florida Resort opened, with rides, shows, a water park, and three hotels. Residences, businesses, schools, and infrastructure have grown to accommodate the visitors to Orlando, which numbered 75,000,000 in 2018.

Starbucks

Travel played a role in another company celebrating a golden anniversary this year. Starbucks had opened its first store in 1971 in Seattle's Pike Place Market, serving coffee to a waiting line of customers. A few years later, Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz took note of Italy's many espresso bars on a trip there and brought back the idea. 

"The Italians had created the theater, romance, art, and magic of experiencing espresso," Schultz recalls on the company's website. "I was overwhelmed with a gut instinct that this is what we should be doing."

Today, there are more than 33,000 Starbucks stores around the world, and their expansive Starbucks Reserve Roasteries have opened in Milan, Tokyo, Shanghai, Chicago, Seattle, and New York. Airports around the world feature Starbucks, most often seen with a queue of patiently waiting travelers.

Travel + Leisure magazine covers from 1971, 1947, 1976
From left: The first Travel + Leisure magazine from 1971; A cover from 1947; 1976
| Credit: Travel + Leisure

Travel + Leisure

From its first issue 50 years ago, Travel + Leisure has become one of the most respected and popular sources of travel inspiration. As travel has increased and evolved, the publication has been a leader in bringing attention to trends, news, destinations, hotels, cruises, airlines, and all things travel. 

The annual Destination of the Year focuses on a location, with both staff and feature writers covering every aspect of the selected locale. This year, Italy was chosen, and T+L's readers will be inspired by the descriptions of Italy's scenery, cuisine, customs, cities, and its people. The It List is eagerly awaited by T+L's readers, and this year's will undoubtedly encourage wanderlust, especially after 2020's limits on travel. The same goes for the annual 50 Best Places to Travel, compiled by T+L's editors. 

Readers are in the driver's seat with the World's Best Awards, based on an annual reader survey of all travel-related categories. Hundreds of thousands of responses result in the awards, an indication of the public's interest in travel as well as its relationship with Travel + Leisure.

T+L's latest project, "Let's Go Together," is a podcast that features travel experiences from a variety of diverse voices.

As the world of travel evolves, Travel + Leisure both observes and inspires that evolution. The goal is to "put the world on vacation," and with every issue, T+L encourages its readers to enrich their lives through the experience of travel.