Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ist Class Travel in the Air

by Connie Cortright

My husband is on a trip to Bangladesh this week. He told me that the flight from Minneapolis to Japan seemed so long because he had to sit in one spot for over twelve hours. If he had been traveling in the 30s, it would have been possible to walk around or go to the bar for a drink while flying.

He would have had to fly on an airship to be able to do that. Airship travel was similar to taking a cruise back in the 30s. A trip by airship took much less time than sailing on the ocean.

Dining in an airship

Early in the 20th Century, Germany experimented with transporting people and cargo by air. Zeppelin was the most successful company to build these gigantic airships, also known as dirigibles,  that were put to commercial use during the 1920s and into the 30s.

During the summers of 1931 to 1936, the German airship Graf Zeppelin flew passengers back and forth between Frankfurt, Germany and Recife, Brazil on a regular basis. This trip took about a week's time.
Lounge in Zeppelin airship

These intercontinental flights were only for the well-to-do since they cost about the equivalent of $10,000 in today's dollars.

While they were floating high above the earth, the passengers could relax in the lounge, enjoy a smoke in the smoking lounge, have a drink in the bar, or eat dinner in the dining room. At night they had a sleeping room similar to berths on a ship.

These commercial airships were rigid with an outer structural framework surrounded by a pliable material called the "envelope". In the envelope there were one or more gas-bags that inflated and caused the airship to rise. The lifting gas was usually pumped into the gas-bags to cause the airship to gain altitude.

The dirigibles were pushed forward by engines with propellers attached either to the underside of the airships or on the gondolas attached to the bottom of them. The crew would control the airship by venting or adding gas to the air bags. Usually the airships had tanks of water for ballast that would be dropped if the ship needed to rise rapidly.

The airbags were built on the top of the ship with the passenger compartments in the underbelly. The passengers and crew traveled and worked under the massive structure overhead. The Graf Zeppelin successfully completed many trips across the ocean for several years.

As airline travel improved in the 30s, airship travel dropped off quickly. Airplanes replaced this form of travel because the time to travel was much faster and the cost to do it much more inexpensive. However, I'm sure that would have been a much more comfortable way to travel long distances instead of being strapped into one seat for a twelve hour flight.

Information taken from Airships.net and Airship - Wikipedia


  1. I'd love to try an airship flight, though not the Hindenburg's last voyage.

  2. Sadly, most of the airships ended that way, which you'll hear in next week's post.

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