The 1970s – When Widebody Aircraft Became All The Rage

It has been half a century since the first widebody aircraft took flight for its first-ever passenger service. This introduction marked the start of a shift in global aviation with airlines heavily investing in twin-aisle jets during the 1970s.

747 Pan Am
The introduction of the 747 ushered in a new era for the airline industry. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

Changing the game

Before the 70s, air travel was still largely only enjoyed by a select few due to the high costs involved in maintaining operations. However, widebodies helped several services become more cost-effective than in previous years. The Boeing 747-100 that was introduced with Pan American World Airways in January 1970 used 33 percent less fuel than the 707-320C that it eventually replaced.

Additionally, the extra capacity on the widebody units further helped airlines maintain healthier business models. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was introduced with American Airlines in August 1971. Despite being smaller than the 747, it was could still fit up to 360 passengers. Therefore, with so many extra passengers able to fit on a single flight, the cost of tickets was able to be lowered.

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These circumstances opened up the skies for a whole new generation of passengers who hadn’t had the chance to fly before. Moreover, a new aviation economy was shaped with the addition of these jets. In fact, airports across the globe saw lavish overhauls to meet the demand of thousands of extra travelers flying in each day.

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National Airlines DC-10
The DC-10 quickly became a rival to the 747. Photo: clipperarctic via Wikimedia Commons

Industry commercialization

When these “super jets” entered into service, several airlines updated their liveries to match the grand initiatives. New crew uniforms were also adopted, sparking fresh fashion trends throughout the industry. Flysfo shares that smart plaid jackets, go-go boots, and form-fitting minidresses in vivid patterns were customized to enhance the appearance of the staff’s uniform.

Furthermore, to maximize opportunities, these carriers heavily promoted their new aircraft’s luxurious and spacious cabins, which were often equipped with fancy cocktail bars.

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Getty BOAC first class 747 cabin
Setting foot on one of the early widebody services was quite an experience. Photo: Getty

Moreover, these fuel-efficient engines were far easier on the ear than their predecessors. This added to the comforting experience while onboard as departures were previously often met with frustrating screeches.

Air Canada Lockheed L-1011 TriStar Marmet
The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar made the first fully automatic transcontinental flight. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

Lasting impact

Ultimately, the introduction of the widebody made flying more affordable for the general passenger. From tourism to multinational business, several industries were opened up with the launch of the widebody.

Additionally, various airlines started to make a regular profit for the first time thanks to these models. Many of the planes were also modified into cargo units, doubling up on revenue streams.

Air France Airbus A 300 F-BVGA.jpg
The launch of the A300 with Air France helped get Airbus off the ground. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, it’s no surprise as to why so many firms chose to adopt these planes during the 1970s. Altogether, this era left a legacy that opened the door for groundbreaking opportunities that we take for granted 50 years later.

What do you think about the introduction of widebody aircraft in the 1970s? Do you have any fond memories of the jets during this decade? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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Matthew in PDX

The name of the game with wide bodies was their range rather than passenger capacity. As we see now with the long range narrow body airliners like the A321XLR and similar proposed versions of the B737 MAX, airlines like to offer non-stop destinations with higher frequencies. In the 1970s that necessitated using wide body aircraft on transcontinental and transoceanic routes, and with transoceanic routes, an airline needed a three or four engined aircraft. Now, with the long range narrow bodies, an airline will be able to operate long thin routes profitably. We’re likely to see more narrow bodies and fewer wide bodies on long routes in the years to come, the advantage though is that services will be more frequent. Can you imagine a day when there will be hourly departures from SYD – LAX on an A321XLR? I can.

Chuck

I do remember the L1011 with Delta and Eastern. They felt so much more spacious compared to today cramped jets. Delta had a 2+5+2 seating arrangement in the rear. Was able to lay down on 5 in a row while returning from Hawaii to DFW. One of the more pleasant flying experiences.

Max Turner

My first flight 1969 was on a Vickers VC10 4 engines mounted a the tail nice plane, when I first saw the 747 at Heathrow I could not believe the size and great comfort.i still fly International but the space has dissapeared,it is very cramped these days.no matter which aircraft is used.

Frank Venditti

Unfortunately the days of the 747 will never again be like it was , they were the best without question

Frank

Unfortunately the days of the 747 will never again be like it was , they were the best without question

Thomas

I can remember flying on the a300 with pan am

Ian

I can remember my Mum, Dad and Uncle and Aunty taking me out to Mascot (Kinsgsford Smith) in the very early ’70s to see the PAN AM 747-100. I was absolutely amazed and from that moment I’ve been interested in the world of aviation. With my career in the military, private sector associated with the military and now in the public service – again associated with Defence has meant a huge amount of commercial travel. To this day I still look at the aircraft at airports, watch what is happening in industry etc and I still think of my trip to see my first “Jumbo”. Post COVID-19 the industry will be different but will survive. A great article – thank you.