Flying in the times of the Maharaja: when air travel was a luxury


Among all the pleasures of life, the pleasure of travelling is the worthiest. However, with serious restrictions on time and an ever expanding arena of global wealth, the focus is more on a safe, convenient and quick travel experience.

This is where air travel comes into the picture. With easy and advanced accessibility, the flight mode has evolved to be the preferred travel choice for world citizens. And while hopping on flight is something we all kinda take for granted now, it hasn’t been the same forever.

Dreamy expanses of soft, floating clouds dotting the silver lined sky along with the thrill of witnessing such beauty close hand are among the multitude of pleasures air travel bestows on us. Yet, boarding a flight had never been this much convenient and enjoyable; there have been times when flying through the air had been more of a luxury than a necessity.


Modern flying encompasses a range of amenities inconceivable of in the earlier times. True, they still had dainty air hostesses, on board service was very much of a reality and flights were still fancy, yet actually getting onto a flight and embarking on the journey was nothing short of a crisis.


Flight travel was a relatively new domain back then. In the era when per capita income was seriously limited and the rich class was only a minority, it was obvious that any new treading area would be virtually out of bounds for commoners. And indeed it was. With tickets being exorbitantly priced, only the one with overflowing coffers could afford the luxury of air travel.


Air India was the only state run service carrier in existence in India at the time around her independence. And with private players not making their foray into the flying zone till quite some time, Air India was pretty much the only entity around.

Air India
Source: The News Minute

The monopoly therefore ensured that air fares were kept at their ceiling limits. However, other factors were also at play behind this (literally) sky high pays. Acquisition and maintenance costs were off limits and so were service charges, but even then, airfares were at the most extravagant. In fact, in 1947, a ticket from Delhi to Mumbai cost more than a gold coin.


And if shelling out a fortune was what you thought would have guaranteed a secure and relaxing wayfaring experience, then you would be so wrong! Because even at the prices you had to pay, you were still exposing yourself to the maximum risk. Safety advances weren’t a reality till then and with looks preceding functionality, flying would be a hazard, not a luxury.

Source: Shep Travel

Hijackers were terrifyingly real and with technological pursuits not reaching daunting heights as yet, mid air scares were more common.


Even then, the glamour of flying wasn’t all lost on the opulent and upper echelons of society. Air hostesses have had an undeniable presence on air crafts ever since the beginning. And while air hostesses then were more focussed on service to passengers, their luxurious lifestyles did much to amp up the glam quotient associated with air travel.


“Glorified ayahs,” or hawayi sundaris, as they used to be referred to patronisingly held much of the charm of airtravel. With all the allure of their opulent lifestyle, jet setting across exotic locations and getting to travel the world for free, air hostesses fascinated people much like the domain they ruled over. Air India’s exotic silk sari clad air hostesses attained iconic status and went on to rule the hearts of skyfarers.

It was only some time after technology had taken long strides that travelling by air could be considered among the commonplace ‘pursuits’ of life. In the modern times of now, air travel is the norm. And with air advances a staggeringly real component of the world of travel, it might as well be safe to say that flying in all times should have been a necessity!