twa convair 880

This is a passenger lounge aboard a little-known airliner from the 1950s called a Convair 880, manufactured by General Dynamics. This particular plane was owned and operated by TWA, and this photo, taken in January 1958, was most likely a publicity shot taken for the airline. There are a lot of startling things about this picture that say a lot about the time it was taken. The roominess of the lounge is considerable; airlines wouldn’t be caught dead doing something like this today, and in fact have a monetary incentive to make on-board spaces as cramped and uncomfortable for their passengers as possible. The chairs are molded plastic with upholstered backs and seats–again, something an airline wouldn’t do today, because cheap rearrangement of seats for maximum monetization is believed (by the airlines, at least) to be a desirable quality.

There are also some interesting gender dynamics going on here. The stewardess is interacting with the female passengers, both of whom are elegantly dressed and appear wealthy, while the man sits alone reading a paper. The 1950s were more reserved, and this predated the era when airlines sold “sex appeal,” mainly in the form of attractive stewardesses who were put forth as eye candy for men. If this ad appeared in 1968, for instance, I’m almost sure the passengers being served would be men, and the only woman in the picture would probably have been the stewardess herself.

The Convair 880 was a narrow-bodied plane that was designed to be faster, but smaller, than the Boeing 707 that was then taking the airline world by storm. The first plane was delivered off the assembly line to Delta Airlines in 1959. Because the plane was small, however, airlines couldn’t really get their money’s worth; the fact that it was faster than the 707 ended up making a lot less difference than General Dynamics thought it would. The Convair company (owned by GD) ceased manufacture of the 880 in 1962 after making only 65 planes. All in all, the company took a $165 million bath on the ill-fated venture. Although a few 880s remained flying as late as the 1990s, the plane never really developed even a cult following, as the Concorde did. Alas, this sort of lounge has now vanished from the modern world.

This photo is believed to be in the public domain.