Earlier this week I was accused by a younger person of lying about an experience I had on an airplane when I was six years old. True, there is a lot about flying in "the old days" that younger people cannot comprehend – security used to be a retired cop sitting on a folding chair next to a dilapidated metal detector and anyone under 10 was guaranteed the opportunity to enter the cockpit to chat with the captain during flight – but they've seen such things in enough movies to believe them. I'll have to rely on the fact that many of you are my age (35) or older to prove that I am not lying about this one, though.
There used to be an airline called People Express. People Express was the first post-1978 deregulation "ultra low cost" airline. It would be comparable to Southwest in the US or RyanAir in Europe today. People Express introduced, in the words of Homer Simpson, "a generation of hicks to air travel." Its prices were extremely low and its level of service quite spartan back in an era in which airlines still boasted about who did the best job of pampering passengers. People Express is also notable for having thought it wise to use purple, orange, and magenta simultaneously as its colors.
Here's the part no one will believe.
My first flight was on People Express. Passengers boarded the plane and then after takeoff the stewardesses (as they were known back in the day) went around the plane and collected the fares from passengers in cash. You know, like they do on Amtrak. Like a flying train. No reservations necessary, no advance purchase, no tiered fares, nothing. You got on the plane, it took off, and then you paid. No credit cards or checks. I swear to a sampling of deities, that is how it worked.
The question of what happened to a passenger who boarded without the ability to pay did not trouble me at the time. In hindsight I suppose they would be treated the same way a train passenger is treated when the conductor finds him unable to pay, and the police would likely be called at the airport upon arrival.
They were simpler times. Oh, and as much as TV comedians and the general public enjoyed making fun of People Express during its brief existence, it was purchased by Continental in 1987 and its business practices (charging for checked bags and food, for example) are now widespread in the airline industry. Except for that whole pay-on-board part. That never quite caught on for some reason.