Spacious Seats and Safety: Air Travel Has Come a Long Way

August 12, 2014 | Author: Esther Massimini

Two events recently inspired me to write this blog entry: Honeywell Aerospace celebrated 100 years in Aerospace, and my husband’s grandmother turned 99. These events reminded me of my own grandmother, who was born just two years before Honeywell Aerospace. She was an integral part of my very first flight.

In 1963, I was a young child moving from the US back to Germany. My mother made the trip with six children under age six, along with my grandmother (then in her early 50s.) It was everyone’s first flight, and quite the adventure! Over the years, two things remain with me: my grandmother was afraid she would cause the plane to crash due to “imbalance” if she got up to use the restroom, and the trip seemed much more “glamorous” than modern-day flight (minus the ubiquitous smoking of the day).

Before this trip, we took transatlantic journeys by ocean liner. I remember nothing from those journeys, being too young at the time, but apparently, we were constantly seasick. So taking an airplane was definitely an improvement, not just in terms of efficiency!

Boeing Cockpit

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First Flight: New York to Frankfurt, Germany

The day of my first flight was quite exciting. We flew on a Boeing® 707, the first commercially successful jetliner. The airline was Pan American Airlines (also known as Pan Am). Since our family was traveling with two infants, Pan Am provided us with bassinets—a square basket with handles. These were Pan Am branded and required two persons to carry them. My grandmother and I had the task of helping with my baby sister, who was just a few months old.

family travel

As there were no jetways—first used in 1959 and not yet common--boarding the flight involved walking out on the tarmac and climbing stairs into the plane. Families with children always boarded first, and once on board, flight attendants greeted us and took us on a tour of the cockpit, then gave us our junior flight wings. When I mentioned this to my husband, he immediately rummaged through a drawer and found his 1960s-era Pan Am wings!

Inside the cockpit, I of course had no inkling that I was looking at controls and instruments made by Honeywell (then Sperry), the company where I would spend most of my professional life. The Sperry Flight Integration System was an integral part of the Boeing 707 cockpit.

Most Recent Flight: Phoenix to London, England


I went on to take many flights during the ensuing years, and my most recent transatlantic flight was on a Boeing® 747 from Phoenix to London. From a comfort perspective, the experience could not be more different! The photo below shows what a Boeing® 747 interior looked like during its first year (1970). Note the spacious Economy cabin! From a comfort point of view, financial and security constraints have definitely diminished the user experience, and no one tours a cockpit anymore.


Image courtesy of Pan Am Historical Foundation 

Flight is more Affordable

Today, cost and safety reflect 50 years of improvement. Flying, especially long-haul, was expensive in the middle of the last century. After all, the term “jet-set” implied you were wealthy enough to go jetting about the world! Most families did not fly on vacation—in fact, the first flight I am describing was a work relocation for my dad.

Flying was definitely less affordable then. For example, average US wages in 1963 were roughly $4397, and a flight from the US East Coast to Germany was roughly $300. According to a US inflation calculator, that same ticket would cost $2332 today. A check of airfare today shows ticket prices under $1100.

Flight is Safer

Back in 1963, once aboard my first flight with my baby sister in a little bassinet, there were special hooks between cabins where bassinets hung from the walls. If your seat was not a bulkhead, your baby went unsecured on the floor at your feet, or you placed the bassinet on an empty seat next to you (if available.)  By contrast, my children always flew in their own seats and in FAA-approved child car seats.

If you look at the history of any particular airline or airframe, you will see a long list of plane crashes during the 1950s-1970s. Just visually compare the list of incidents for the Boeing®707 to that of the Boeing® 747 – there were a lot more plane crashes each year and that certainly correlates with the impression I got from the evening news in Europe at the time. As time went on, terrorism became a much more frequent cause of “hull loss” but flight itself became safer.

I daily experience the extent to which Honeywell goes to ensure compliance with safety regulations, and aircraft incidents are now so rare, there’s no reason to worry about them.


I am happy to report that both flights (the one in 1963 and the one in 2013) ended safely and successfully. My little sister survived being carted around in a flimsy bassinet and over the years, my grandmother flew many more times—well into her late 80s. However, I do not think she ever got over her fear of causing a disturbance in the balance of an airplane!

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Esther Massimini

Esther Massimini

Esther Massimini is a Principal Engineer in the Flight Management Systems Center of Excellence with Honeywell Aerospace. She has been with Honeywell for over 29 years and also has worked in the Software Center of Excellence and Computer-Aided Engineering. Before joining Honeywell, she was a Senior Engineer at Motorola and served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Esther has a master’s degree in Operations Research from the George Washington University (GWU) School of Engineering and Applied Science, and also holds a certificate in Program Management from GWU’s School of Business. Her undergraduate degree is from Oberlin College, where she majored in Mathematics and History. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She is also Green Belt and Design for Six Sigma certified.

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