Winnipeg museum recalls era of airline freebies, smoking on plane, delicious meals

Winnipeg museum recalls era of airline freebies, smoking on plane, delicious meals

WINNIPEG — A new exhibit at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada offers a glimpse of the not-so-distant past of air travel. Like when you could smoke on an airplane. And when airlines handed out free stuff to passengers, all of whom were well-heeled.

The museum, adjacent to Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, is showcasing about 70 items — most of them produced for now-defunct Canadian airlines — in its Airline Memorabilia display, which runs until the end of the year.

There’s everything from Canadian Pacific Air Lines swizzle sticks and a Trans-Canada Airlines pen set to a Transair overnight bag containing toothbrush and toothpaste, tissue paper, a hair brush and a couple of mini-bars of soap.

A ceramic ash tray from the mid-1960s features Canadian Pacific’s stylized geese logo. As dated as the item may seem today, first-class lounges on airplanes actually had ash trays on tables, said Paul Balcaen, the museum’s exhibits co-ordinator.

Freebies were also once common practice: “They were good PR for the airlines,” he said.

“If you were flying to Europe you would get perfume, cologne, all the fancy toiletries, in a beautiful box with a nice decal on it,” Balcaen said, describing a piece of 1950s Trans-Canada Airlines swag on display.

Other souvenirs shown include a Canadian Pacific golf ball and golf tees, and a flight attendant doll that the airline would give to children.

“Back in the 1940s and ’50s it was very expensive to fly,” Balcaen said.

“To try to lure the more affluent population to fly instead of taking the train, airlines would offer little bonus items, blankets and all kinds of things, that people could keep.”

There were other key differences between air travel then and now.

“The service in those days was so much better,” Balcaen said. In particular, Canadian Pacific, which operated until 1987, had “this amazing reputation for offering really good service.”

“And back then, of course, the meals were delicious,” he added.

Pacific Western Airlines, Canadian Airlines International and Wardair – all now just distant memories – are also represented in the exhibit, which highlights a small selection of material from the museum’s archives.

Air Canada, which was called Trans-Canada Airlines until the name was changed in 1965, is featured as well, with such oddball memorabilia as oven mitts and a stainless-steel coffee pot once used by its flight attendants.


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