Jet Set

Written by William Stadiem
Review by Richard Bourgeois

To a contemporary traveler squeezed into the center seat of an Airbus A380, air travel in the 1960s was all about glamor: men in hats, Liz Taylor sipping champagne in first class, Frank Sinatra crooning “Come Fly with Me.” But the story of the jet age is more about the back end of the plane, which brought untold thousands of middle-class Americans to Europe for the first time—perhaps for as little as “five dollars a day” if they’d packed Arthur Frommer’s latest guidebook.

Stadiem tells the story of the popular revolution in air travel comprehensively, starting with the introduction of the 707 in 1958 and ending when skyjackings and the sardine-tin 747 ended everyone’s fun. At times it’s too comprehensive, with hoteliers and airline CEOs’ backstories constantly dialing the clock back all the way to propellers and Prohibition. The style is equal parts gossip-column snark and social history, usually entertaining but frequently losing focus in the turbulence of too many period references. Overall this was a good read, leaving me longing for the days before jets and the slow Americanization of Europe—not that I could have afforded to go.