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Were The Early 80's Really That Much Better On UA Than Now?

Were The Early 80's Really That Much Better On UA Than Now?

Old Nov 26, 19, 7:05 am
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Were The Early 80's Really That Much Better On UA Than Now?


So I found and watched this video on YouTube. It's of KE's premium cabin service in 1983 from what I can tell from the few English in the description. Starting at 0:17 shows the meal service with salad being prepared from the trolley. For those of you who were flying UA in the late 70's early 80's, was the service really that much better than its today? I mean the salad service by the FA's dressed in Korean costume just doesn't seem all that impressive to me. It looks like plain salad tossed with dressing with condiments and toppings offered from what looks like plastic containers.

The tray table setup just seems meh and those seats are atrocious. The good ole days just don't look so "good" in my opinion. The video may not be of UA, but I'm guessing everyone offered similar service back then. Give me lie flat Polaris seats over trolley salad and FA's in local costumes any day.

Did the dog and pony show really make what looks like just lettuce and dressing that much tastier than the salad from Polaris below?

Last edited by seat38a; Nov 26, 19 at 7:54 am
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Old Nov 26, 19, 7:28 am
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You also have to keep in mind that Korea was a poverty stricken country for much of the early 1980s, so what you see on KAL isn't representative of an asian carrier today. Asian carriers didn't start grabbing significant marketshare from western ones until the 1990s imo.

Here is what you could have expected on UAL in the 1980s in first class:



So maybe better, but your seat was a glorified barcalounger in the sky rather than a fold flat bed.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 7:38 am
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UA didn’t have long haul international until PDX-NRT in ‘83 so not much to compare. Search Youtube for “Diamonds in the Sky” and you’ll see everything about UA in the late 70s, including video of the ORD-HNL first class service. ..and lots of flyer complaints / growing pains.

It it wasn’t that elaborate and portions small but they had a few more thoughtful touches and some dry ice theatre. Better than the HNL service on UA today although if you fly AA DFW-HNL they dress that meal up to a higher level with latest gen lie flat seats.

Pinnacle of UA onboard meals was prob intl first class in the mid 90s. Vintage champagne, caviar, but a lot of sliced beef - not so much rotation. Went downhill post 9/11.

Never tried it so only speaking from the online record.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 7:58 am
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Originally Posted by cerealmarketer View Post
Pinnacle of UA onboard meals was prob intl first class in the mid 90s. Vintage champagne, caviar, but a lot of sliced beef - not so much rotation. ..
I remember Dom Perignon and real caviar. Also, they didn't routinely fill out the cabin with NRSAs back then, so my wife and I were often the only ones in the cabin.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:04 am
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Give me price comparisons, adjusted for inflation, and I'll tell you what I prefer.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:06 am
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Here is the documentary that cereal mentioned:


The only huge difference is that the FAs do not seem to be as surly as they are today, but that could also be a result of them being filmed.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:15 am
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It is not a UA only comparison but I flew business class internationally on many airlines, including UA and CO. CO usually got my business out of Australia to the USA.

The service on all airlines was far better than these days but then again the pax were much better dressed than pax these days (I am as guilty as the next person of comfortable dressing for my flights).

The seats in J of course were recliners not lie flat. Lie flat was FC only and I never flew FC until 2010 (using a GPU).

Meals were fine, but then again meals in Y were good too.

Flying was more of an unusual occurrence (I was not the typical business executive even in the 1980s). These days catching a plane is similar to catching a bus back then.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:28 am
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Originally Posted by vaguba View Post
Here is the documentary that cereal mentioned:

https://youtu.be/VBUatj4gTvk

The only huge difference is that the FAs do not seem to be as surly as they are today, but that could also be a result of them being filmed.
They really served the main course separately in coach back then? Did the FA's just plop a casserole dish on the tray later?
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:31 am
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Originally Posted by seat38a View Post
They really served the main course separately in coach back then? Did the FA's just plop a casserole dish on the tray later?
I have some hazy memories of flying on a NWA 747 from detroit to beijing as a child in the early 90s and it was all on one tray back then.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:35 am
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My memories of flying Y on AA and UA in the 90's are hazy because champagne splits used to be complimentary, and they helped the food to taste better.

But J seats back then, even on the best Asian carriers, were around 42" of pitch, equivalent to many PE seats today.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 8:49 am
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I experienced global first on SFO-SYD on 744 in 1997. Service definitely a notch above because the crews still enjoyed their jobs back then. I remember proper caviar with chilled vodka shots. IFE was a small hand held vcr type device that played videos from the small cassettes that persisted into the early 2000's. As some have said above, business class was nothing more than a premium economy seat today (probably not as nice). First was lie-flat or almost flat. I routinely paid 8k to 10k RT for a business class flight and then was upgraded into first by my corporate travel dept. If you asked if I would ever pay $15k in 2019 USDs for that service the answer would be a resounding no. I also probably only netted ~31k RDMs at best. That said UA did have proper ground experience (escorts to plane, and meeting at gate to escort to immigration / customs). Different times, so hard to compare the total experience.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 10:09 am
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I flew a lot of transcon and flights to Hawaii (OGG) in F back in the mid to late 80s early 90s thanks to my father who was a consultant at the time and always booked us in first class using his miles.

The seats back then were not as good as today - not a lot of recline and less seat pitch.

The food and service were much better. Food was individually plated from a cart, including slicing the prime rib (you could ask for an outside cut if you preferred well done). The Mai-Tais on the route to Hawaii were excellent and there were many other Hawaiian themed touches to the service. Other than the champagne, I don't remember much about the quality of the wine served, but the wine glasses they used were really tiny.

Pre-departure beverages were served in glass or china. I remember near the end of this time period when my mother asked for a coffee pre-departure and it was served in a disposable cup and my mom shook her head in disgust and said that United was going down hill for sure!

For these routes, United used the DC-10, which was a great plane to fly in, especially up in first class.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 10:32 am
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I have no direct experience so I am only relaying what I know....

Back in the late 70s my parents spent a few years in Australia before I was born and flew between the US and Australia in Quantas first. They also did some travel in Asia on Quantas and Cathay Pacific in that time period. My father is no longer with us but my mother, now in in her 70s does travel internationally and does so in business. From what she has said the "good old days" weren't really better in First (coach is a bit of a different story). The FAs were nicer and due to price there were often open seats which also made service more personal. Yet, the hard product was inferior in many ways to modern business let alone F. What has really happened is that especially with international LCCs the disparity between economy and international first has grown much wider. It may not seem as "exclusive" now, and on some airlines you may have to put up with surly FAs but the overall experience is better.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 10:44 am
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UA in the 1980s had a lot of elements that made the travel experience a good one, and many of these elements are gone today. Some of these general expectations of that day included the following.

- Widebodies everywhere: As mentioned above, DC-10 flights were common even on domestic routes. Lots of space, lots of power, commercial flying was not far removed from the military-industrial complex, and nowhere near the consumer commodity it is today.
- Empty seats: Full flights were not ubiquitous as they are today, and as a result, the level of civility was much higher. Lots of leg room, elbow room, strolling around room on board the aircraft.
- Formal process: The liturgy of flying was both more formal and less than today. More formal in that flights left on time and with a certain amount of ceremony, as the planes were not scheduled to their maximums. Flyers were better dressed, attendants were conscious of their service capacity, and the element of travel was an event. The paper ticket package for an international flight was a big wad of paper and carbons, and the flight itself was the activity for the day, not just something to do before getting into the office.
- Informal process: It was less formal in that often you just drove up and walked up to the desk and then the aircraft - no TSA lines and fakery, very limited security activities other than a WTMD, very limited airport dining or shopping. Upgrades were literal sticky pieces of paper affixed to a ticket.
- Entertainment: Unless you liked listening to music or movies through a pneumatic tube, there was not much electronic entertainment. Serving the meal from a cart was part of how to pass the time, along with a deck of cards. I learned several different card games from attendants on long flights with the old Bicycle playing card decks they handed out at the beginning of flights.
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Old Nov 26, 19, 10:46 am
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The flight attendants are just a reflection of society. people in general are more surly. In the old days people were courteous and smiled when the stuck the knife in your back. It was a real art to pull of a veiled insult while overtly being polite.
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