The age of air travel

Date of news/blog: 10th June 2024

With our around the world flight taking place across all of our homes this week we take a look at the history of air travel and how it has enabled us to visit destinations people could only used to dream about.

It took only 12 seconds and covered a distance of just 40 yards but in North Carolina just over 120 years ago the age of air travel was born with the first ever powered flight.

Reaching a height of just ten feet as they took to the skies in their gasoline powered, wooden biplane “Kitty Hawk”, pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright could hardly have imagined what they had set in motion.

In 1930 the number of air passengers stood at 6,000 but with major airlines now being launched, including KLM, Delta and Qantas, air travel literally took off and within four years that figure had risen to half a million.

But unpressurised cabins meant flight was restricted to low altitudes, planes were small and air travel was a noisy, cold and very expensive experience with many re-fuelling stops required. Some companies even employed on-board nurses due to the frequency of sickness and anxiety attacks amongst passengers.

The introduction of pressurised cabins and the jet engine saw plane sizes and passenger numbers soar during the fifties and sixties and opened up the launch of the package holiday.

By the late seventies Brits were spending more on overseas holidays than at home and for £50 you could enjoy a return flight and weeks accommodation in Mallorca.

You could also fly supersonic from London on Concorde and be in New York just three hours later, but a return trip would cost you £1,000 and over the years this price rose rapidly to the point where the service was retired in 2003.

In 2023 over 626,000 flights took off from the UK travelling non-stop to 372 destinations in 101 different countries.

Travelling long haul – that’s over six hours – the London to New York route is the most popular. It will take you nearly eight hours these non-supersonic days though the price is similar to those first Concorde flights of nearly 50 years ago.

Singapore, Delhi, Toronto and Dubai are other faraway destinations that feature in the top ten countries with the most scheduled flights from the UK.

Short haul, Mallorca remains as popular as it was in the seventies package holiday boom, nearly 3million seats will be offered from the UK this summer though the price for a one week stay will have risen ten-fold.

In terms of cities, Dublin followed by Amsterdam are far and away the most popular foreign destinations with over 3million seats available from the UK each year. Paris comes in third.

Aviation pioneers have constantly pushed back the boundaries and now even space travel is no longer a flight of fancy provided you have deep enough pockets.

Anyone flying beyond 50miles above the earth will be regarded as an astronaut under NASA qualifications and that’s the measure reached by Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic. The lowest priced ticket for the 90minute flight will set you back around £250,000.



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