See the meals US airlines were serving passengers in the 1960s

Jun 21, 2021

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I’m of an age where I had the privilege of flying on global airlines back when that mode of travel was reserved for the rich. Passengers dressed in their Sunday best, coach seats were actually comfortable and the inflight meal was a highlight of the journey.

Northwestern University’s Transportation Library has a collection of more than 400 menus from 54 national and international airlines, cruise ships and railroad companies. The collection spans from 1929 to the present, with a focus on mid-to-late 20th-century air transportation.

The majority of the collection was donated by George M. Foster, a pioneering anthropologist and Northwestern alumnus, who took his first commercial flight in 1935. He ended up flying hundreds of times, as well as travelling by rail and boat, for his anthropological research and as a consultant for such agencies as the World Health Organization and UNICEF. He collected remembrances of his travels in the form of inflight or onboard menus, which he donated to the Transportation Library in 1997.

A Pan American World Airways flight attendant preparing in-flight meals in the galley of an airliner, circa 1950. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

What makes the menu collection unique is Foster’s hand-written comments on flight dates, aeroplane types and food and wine ratings and descriptions. “The menus preserve a glimpse of the golden age of air travel in which fine dining, fine wines, and thoughtful design created a passenger experience of mystique and allure,” according to the Transportation Library. “Menus, flight attendant uniforms, silverware, timetables, and even airline terminals were components of airlines’ visual identities through which they represented adventure, excitement, and an optimism about the future.”

Below we look at what six U.S. airlines served in the 1960s.

In This Post

United Airlines: San Francisco to Detroit, 1969

For many, it’s pretty amazing that this was the menu on a four-hour and 20-minute flight. Foster noted that the poached quenelle of scallops, Nantua sauce was “Excellent.” He also had his choice of cocktails, three entrees and two salads.

Northwest Orient Airlines, 1966: Seattle-Tokyo-Hong Kong

In his notes, Foster wrote, “Seattle–Tokyo–Hong Kong;” “Boeing 320C Intercontinental” on the menu. Note that the meal ends with complimentary cigarettes!

Pan Am, 1966: Tokyo to San Francisco

Breakfast on this flight included your choice of cereals, eggs served three ways, two kinds of meat, with rolls, coffee and tea.

Trans World Airlines, 1968

Foster noted that this “Olde English” themed menu was folded so that one leaf is wider than the other. “Serving Wench” definitely conjures up how different things were in the 1960s.

National Airlines, 1968: Jet service to Miami

This airline, founded in 1934, operated flights between New York and Miami, Miami to the West Coast and, in 1970, Miami to London. The flight had a full meal service, including happy hour drinks, hot Hors d’oeuvres, an appetizer, a salad, a choice of two entrees and three desserts, along with a selection of wines and after-dinner drinks. Plus the menu could be used as a sun reflector.

American Airlines, 1966: Boston to Washington, D.C.

This flight was too short for a full meal. But a full bar was on the menu, including popular cocktails of the day, along with soft drinks.

Featured image of a United Airlines menu courtesy of the Northwestern University Transportation Library

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