Five ways visiting theme parks has changed: then and now

Theme parks have evolved greatly over the years. Even in my lifetime, the theme park experience has changed substantially due to advances in technology. Today’s guests have the tools to enjoy their visits more than ever. In no particular order, here are five ways the theme park experience has changed in just the past two decades.

1. Apps are putting park information at your fingertips
The task of finding your way around an unfamiliar theme park is becoming a lot easier thanks to apps like Thrillseeker. The app functions like a park map, but with the added advantage of GPS to show you your location. It even gives you step-by-step directions to attractions and detailed ride descriptions so you’ll know what to expect. While the app currently covers just the major theme parks in Florida and the United Kingdom, it does point to a pretty cool future.

2. Home videos are going public and getting dangerous
Cell phones and the ever-shrinking digital cameras have given guests the ability to easily capture memories of their theme park visit. Unfortunately, this has led to the dangerous practice of some guests whipping out blunt objects on roller coasters so that they can film themselves and their friends. If dropped, those cute little cameras turn into missiles that could injure other riders or onlookers. I’d recommend guests buy on-ride DVDs or photos rather than put other riders’ in danger. YouTube has plenty terrible, shaky home videos already.

3. Guests can avoid waiting in long lines
Waiting in line has always been a part of the theme park experience. Today, at many parks guest have an alternative to forgoing hours of shuffling through quarter mile-long queues. Rather than waste precious time, ride reservation systems like Six Flags’ Flash Pass and Disney’s FASTPASS allow guests to enjoy other rides at the park until their ride time. When your time comes, guests simply enter attractions via a special entrance and only have to wait a few minutes before boarding the ride.

Orlando’s Universal Studios posts wait times for the park’s most popular attractions via electronic billboards all over the park. So, there’s no need to wonder if that attraction on the other side of the park still has a long wait.

4. Visiting in groups and splitting up is much easier
Anyone who’s ever visited a theme park in a large group knows that splitting up is inevitable as some want to challenge the biggest and baddest rides while others would like a more relaxing visit. Years ago, you might have planned to meet someone at a certain place and at a certain time. If a ride broke down or you missed your group, you could waste a good portion of your visit looking for your party. Today, you can simply call your friends with your cell phone when you’re ready to meet.

5. Guests are better informed than ever
With the Internet, guests can do extensive research on an amusement park before their visit. Aside from official theme park websites, there are fan sites, theme park news sites and blogs, and resources like the Roller Coaster Database and Wikipedia that make it easier than ever to know anything you’d want to know about a theme park. You no longer have to rely solely on word-of-mouth from friends and family or the park’s often exaggerated advertising about their exciting new rides.

Naughty Flight Attendants: Playboy, calendars and sex scandals

The flight attendant may be there “primarily for your safety”, but that hasn’t stopped them being included in a variety of sources to satisfy male fetishes. As early as the 30’s, the stewardess was used to market airline tickets.

Back when women’s rights were non-existent, the stewardess was not allowed to be married, had to undergo regular grooming inspections and underwear checks.

Back then, employment could be terminated for things like “a gummy smile”.

In the 70’s, times started to change, mostly thanks to the efforts of the Stewardesses for Women’s Rights – the first all-female national organization for flight attendants.

Before these changes, airlines would regularly advertise their airline by “pimping” their female flight crews. Slogans like “We Really Move Our Tails for You” and “I’m Carol, Fly Me” were considered perfectly acceptable ways to sell tickets.

In this article, we’ll take a look back at some of the ways flight attendants were portrayed in advertising for airlines, along with some sex scandals.

In this 1930’s video (with recently added narration), the airlines knew no shame in using their female employees. It took till 1972 for this to change.


In the 60’s, anything was still possible. Hugh Hefner filled his personal DC-9 with a weekly fresh lineup of eager bunnies, and the press loved it. There was no shame in showing off his party plane, or reporting on the kind of fun he had on board.


The start of this graduation ceremony looks more like the opening scene of Miss Universe.


By the 80’s, the flight attendant was back to clean cut and totally sweet – the mini skirt was out, and the professional smile was in.


By the new millennium, competition was stiff – and the Internet made it even easier for passengers to shop around. People expected a bit more shock value from their content, so this made it perfectly acceptable to show off your good looking crew (again).

Pushing the envelope

Times have changed – it is once again considered totally normal for the flight attendant to show up in Playboy. The ladies pictured above contacted Playboy for a photo shoot after they were fired by their airline as part of a reorganization.

One of the larger inflight sex scandals of the decade…

When actor Ralph Fiennes was heading to India on a Qantas flight to educate people on the dangers of AIDS, he took the opportunity to have unprotected sex with one of the flight attendants.

The end result was more painful for her than for Fiennes, as she ended up losing her job, her house and any prospect of working the friendly skies again.

Marketing the looks of your staff…

Others use their looks to help the airline in special marketing projects – like the yearly calendar produced by flight attendants of Ryanair.

Or this calendar from Mexican low cost airline Viva Aerobus. The proceeds from the calendar benefit the Mexican Juvenile Cancer Foundation.

Not all promotions go down too well…

One airline that continued to play around with its staff is Spirit Air. Their “witty” promotions included mentions of “muff diving”, “MIFF’s” and DD’s”, flight attendants hit back through their union.

Apparently taking advantage of your staff does require it to remain semi-tasteful. Perhaps they should consider a calendar?

Airline ticketing: Before computers, agents used stickers?

While cleaning out my basement the other day, I ran across something that never fails to make me smile.

A Wien Air Alaska 737 seating chart.

Before computers made their way to the airline world, seat dupes (accidental duplicate seat assignments) were prevented with a sheet of stickers that included every seat on the airplane.

Agents would place these stickers on a passenger’s ticket jacket. Once the entire sheet was used up, the flight was most certainly full.

At Wien, the number of seats often varied from 28 to 112 since many of their 737s were configurable with passengers or cargo, in what was called a “Combi” version of the baby Boeing. Sections of seating could be added or removed easily the night before. The sticker card below shows lines that depict the different airplane configurations. Seats were only given out up to the line needed for the particular airplane.

I’m not sure the modern day computer equivalent is as effective. A mistake that would have been nearly impossible with the sticker method happened to me recently when I was given a seat while deadheading, only to have a passenger approach me with an identical seat assignment.

But at least I was able to check-in on an iPhone, I guess.

Pan Am returning to the air as “Pan Am – the series”

The Pan Am name may have gone down in history with painful memories of the Lockerbie terror attack, but the iconic airline has roots that stretch back to the very early days of commercial aviation.

The airline that was such an important part of history may be making a comeback – in a TV show. ABC has commissioned a pilot for “Pan Am – the series”, and its development is being spearheaded by executive producer Nancy Hult Ganis – who flew Pan Am as a stewardess in 1968.

The days of flying back in the 60’s and 70’s were fantastic – flying was still glamorous, flight attendants were picked based off their skills and looks, and the experience of long haul international travel was still special.

No date has been announced for when you can expect the pilot, but the producers already revealed that it will be an anti-Mad Men – showing women breaking out of their traditional roles. For more on the upcoming series, head on over to our friends at AOL Travel News.

[Photo: Flickr/swbkcb]

Cockpit Chronicles: Alaska flying – then and now

Last week I found myself flying to London with a captain who had started his career in pretty much the same way I did-he too had worked for a couple of airlines in Alaska, albeit more than a decade before me.

As we headed out to dinner, we happened to run into another pilot I knew who, coincidentally, flew for Era Alaska just as I had. Even more surprising was that his co-pilot flew for an airline in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

We agreed to have dinner together at an Indian restaurant ten minutes from the hotel in London. While waiting for some tandoori to arrive, the subject of the Discovery Channel show, Flying Wild Alaska came up. It led to a few wistful stories about the times when we were doing that kind of flying, twenty to thirty years earlier.

“It looks like a lot of fun and adventure from the comfort of your living room, but it’s not as much fun when you’re low on gas, in a mile visibility while trying to read a map and hoping to cut the Mead River. It makes you appreciate this job (flying a Boeing across the Atlantic to London) so much more,” Hank said.

We all agreed. It’s nice to get a little perspective every now and then, and the Discovery Channel show about flying in the Alaskan bush gave us a not so gentle reminder.

But then someone began to check off the items a modern-day bush pilot has that we didn’t back then. At the top of the list was a GPS. While I had flown with a Loran-C for navigation, its accuracy up north wasn’t anything like the GPS. The other pilots at the table didn’t even have a Loran.

“Just a compass and a map up on the north slope.” Hank said.

Next up, I mentioned the real de-icing equipment they have now, not to mention the hangars. Just a few hours earlier I had been writing the de-icing post for Gadling, so the memories of crawling on the curved and slippery wing twelve feet in the air while scraping the ice off were fresh in my mind. Our de-ice ‘equipment’ at the time was a pump bottle you’d find at a garden store.

As tough as we had it, I imagined inviting perhaps another four pilots back from the past to join us. They would be the early bush pilots of the twenties and thirties who would have given anything to have the airplanes we had. So in deference to them, I thought I’d use a few of my grandpa’s photos to illustrate the differences in air travel in Alaska back then and today.


Gravel bars, while sometimes rough, were a preferred summertime runway.

During the first few years of flying in Alaska, there were no official runways. The most ideal landing spot was in Fairbanks, where flying really took hold, at a horse track that was converted into a landing strip. Outside of Fairbanks, landings were made in the summer on gravel bars along rivers or ‘domes’ which were treeless hill tops above a village. Locals made attempts at clearing runways, but their lengths were initially too short or had too many obstacles.
A few towns, such as Nome and Kotzebue were essentially treeless, but runways still needed to be built to accomodate airplanes on wheels since the ground was usually soft in the summer.

Winter flying opened up a lot of areas to landing, especially for airplanes equipped with skis. One concern was at the beginning and end of the season; when a decision had to be made whether to depart with skis or wheels. It wasn’t always obvious how much snow the destination airport would have. The short days in the winter presented a problem as well, since there was no lighting to mark the frozen ‘runway.’

What should we go with today, skis or wheels?

Airplanes with floats became an option starting in the thirties and that combination continues today as a popular way to get around during the five or so months out of the year that allow for it.

Bellanca float plane on the Chena river in Fairbanks in the ’30s

Today the main cities and towns all have runways that are lighted and plowed. So ski flying is used mainly for off-airport operations onto lakes, glaciers and even arctic ice-flows. But the airplane is still the most vital way to move about the state, as few towns outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks are connected by roads.

Kenai, Alaska airport today. Note the float plane ‘strip’ next to the paved runway.


Open cockpit flying

Aside from the landing gear choice, a huge number of changes have come about since the early days of flying in Alaska. In 1924, my grandpa, Noel Wien, was operating out of Fairbanks with an open cockpit biplane called a Hisso Standard that could seat two crammed-in passengers in the front seat. They were required to dress as if they were taking a long winter dog-sled ride, as the wind chill, even at 50 degrees fahrenheit, was bone chilling. This, coupled with the air-cooled engine, prevented year-round flying.

Note the two passengers in the front seat. Legroom wasn’t a complaint back then.

Passengers had to bundle up even in the summer when flying in the open-cockpit Standard

Heated, pressurized cabins make it possible to get around in a t-shirt for many passengers.

In winter of 1925, my grandpa toured the states to look for an air-cooled, fully enclosed cabin airplane that would be capable of flying through an Alaskan winter.

Unfortunately, that airplane didn’t exist yet in America. After visiting several manufacturers who insisted they’d have just such an airplane in another year, Noel settled on a Fokker F.III he found in New York. It had no brakes, the pilot sat outside and the engine was still water-cooled. However, the passengers would ride enclosed in a cabin inspired by a Pullman-train that included upholstered couch type seats, and curtains. At least the passengers would be warm. He operated that airplane for the next two winters before a fully enclosed cabin aircraft with air-cooled engines became available.

The first enclosed-cabin air service in Alaska. Although the pilot still sat in the open.

Passengers rode inside in leather armchair style seats

Today travelers flying in Alaska may find themselves tucked in a Cessna with fold down seats and freight strapped down next to them, or they might have the opportunity to fly between the major cities in an Alaska Airlines 737 “combi” configuration that places the freight in the front separated with a wall from the abbreviated passenger cabin.

Passengers behind a wall and freight in front on this Alaska 737 “Combi”

Turboprop aircraft like the Dash-8 and Beech 1900 are a common way to get people and freight around between the towns as well.

An Era Alaska Beech 1900 is loaded with freight from a dogsled


The 150 h.p. Hisso engine mounted to the large WWI Standard trainer provided enough horsepower to get out of some short strips, but only when the airplane wasn’t carrying a lot of weight. I ran across this video from 1927 that shows my grandpa departing Nome in a fully loaded Standard. I was a bit shocked at the lack of performance.

Compare that to a recent bush pilot competition in Valdez where highly modified Super Cubs and Maules compete for the shortest takeoff roll. Granted, the pilots are flying empty airplanes with a bit of a headwind, but my grandpa would have given anything for this kind of bush plane.


The OX-5 and Hisso engines were able to fly between 50 and 300 hours before requiring an overhaul. My grandpa found that he could get closer to the 300 hour time if he changed the oil every five hours (essentially after each trip).

Today, the piston engines flown in Cessna 207s can go for 2,000 hours before an overhaul and the 1,100 horsepower turbine engines in a Beech 1900 can fly for 6,000 hours before being rebuilt.

Continue reading Part 2: Navigation, search and rescue, ticket prices and what HASN’T changed…