Before the internet changed the world, buying a plane ticket was a much different experience than it is today. Instead of hopping online and quickly booking a flight with just a few clicks, travelers had to plan far in advance and rely on travel agents or airlines directly to purchase tickets.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Before the internet, people bought plane tickets by working with travel agents, calling airlines directly, or visiting ticket counters at the airport. The process required more time, effort, and advance planning compared to today.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what was involved in buying plane tickets in the pre-internet age. We’ll explore the different options travelers had for purchasing tickets, the planning that was required, and how the experience of flying itself was different.

By the end, you’ll have a new appreciation for how much easier it is to take a trip now versus just a few decades ago.

Working with Travel Agents

Before the internet became the primary source for booking plane tickets, people relied heavily on travel agents to plan their trips. Travel agents played a crucial role in assisting travelers with every aspect of their journey, from finding the best deals to making reservations and handling payments.

The Role of Travel Agents

Travel agents were experts in the field of travel and had extensive knowledge about various destinations, airlines, and itineraries. They acted as intermediaries between travelers and airlines, helping customers navigate through the complex process of booking flights.

One of the main advantages of working with a travel agent was the personalized service they provided. They would take the time to understand the traveler’s preferences, budget, and requirements, and then suggest the most suitable options.

This personalized touch helped travelers save time and ensure a hassle-free travel experience.

Making Reservations Through an Agent

Booking a plane ticket through a travel agent involved a series of steps. First, the traveler would provide the agent with their desired travel dates, destination, and any specific requirements. The agent would then search through their database of available flights and provide the traveler with a list of options.

Once the traveler selected their preferred flight, the agent would make the reservation on their behalf. They would handle all the necessary paperwork, including filling out the passenger information and securing the necessary travel documents.

Paying for Tickets

When it came to payment, travelers typically paid the travel agent directly. The agent would accept cash, checks, or credit card payments on behalf of the airline. In some cases, the agent would require a deposit upfront, with the remaining balance due closer to the travel date.

Working with a travel agent provided a sense of security, as travelers could rely on their expertise to ensure a smooth booking process. However, it’s important to note that travel agents charged a fee for their services, which was typically a percentage of the ticket price.

Calling the Airlines Directly

Before the internet revolutionized the way we purchase plane tickets, people had to rely on more traditional methods. One of the most common ways to buy plane tickets was by calling the airlines directly.

This involved finding the phone numbers of the airlines, speaking with reservations agents, and sometimes even mailing payment.

Finding Phone Numbers

In the pre-internet era, finding the phone numbers of airlines required a bit of effort. Travelers would often have to refer to phone directories or travel guides to locate the contact information they needed. They would then jot down the phone numbers and prepare to make a call.

Speaking with Reservations Agents

Once they had the phone numbers, travelers would call the airlines and speak directly with reservations agents. These agents were responsible for handling ticket bookings and assisting customers with their travel needs.

Travelers would often have to wait on hold for extended periods of time, especially during peak travel seasons or busy hours.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first commercial airline ticket reservation system, called SABRE (Semi-Automated Business Research Environment), was introduced in the late 1950s? It revolutionized the way airlines managed reservations and ticket sales.

Mailing Payment

Once travelers had successfully booked their flights over the phone, they would need to make payment arrangements. In the absence of online payment options, mailing a check or money order was a common method.

Travelers would write out their payment, include it with any necessary documentation, and send it via mail to the airline’s designated address.

Did You Know? In the early days of aviation, before the widespread use of telephones, travelers would often have to physically visit the airline’s office or ticket counter to purchase their tickets. The introduction of telephone bookings was a significant step forward in convenience and accessibility.

While the process of calling the airlines directly may seem tedious compared to the convenience of online ticket booking, it was the norm for many years. The advent of the internet and online travel agencies has undoubtedly made purchasing plane tickets quicker and easier, but it’s interesting to reflect on how things were done in the past.

Buying Tickets at the Airport

Before the advent of the internet, purchasing plane tickets was an entirely different experience. People had limited options and had to rely on traditional methods to secure their flights. One common way of buying tickets was at the airport itself.

Checking for Availability

When buying tickets at the airport, travelers had to physically visit the airline’s ticket counter to check for flight availability. This meant standing in long queues and patiently waiting for their turn. There were no online platforms or search engines to quickly compare and choose flights.

Travelers had to rely on the information provided by the airline staff.

Waiting in Line

After determining the flight availability, travelers had to wait in line to purchase their tickets. This often meant spending a considerable amount of time at the airport, especially during peak travel seasons. Patience was key as there were no online booking systems to expedite the process.

Travelers had to wait their turn and hope that the tickets they wanted were still available by the time they reached the counter.

Paying with Cash or Check

In the pre-internet era, cash or checks were the primary methods of payment when buying plane tickets at the airport. Travelers had to carry sufficient cash or a checkbook to cover the cost of their tickets.

Credit card payments were not as widely accepted as they are today, and online payment options were nonexistent. This meant that travelers had to ensure they had the necessary funds on hand before heading to the airport.

Planning Ahead was Crucial

Before the advent of the internet, planning ahead was absolutely crucial when it came to buying plane tickets. People had to be proactive and make their travel arrangements well in advance to secure their seats. This required careful consideration of travel dates, destinations, and available flights.

No Last Minute Booking Options

Unlike today, where you can easily book a flight just hours before departure, there were no last-minute booking options available back then. Travelers had to plan their trips weeks or even months ahead of time to ensure they could secure a seat on their desired flight.

This meant that spontaneous travel was much more challenging, as it required meticulous planning and foresight.

Following Up Regularly

In the pre-internet era, following up regularly was essential to stay updated on flight availability and any changes in schedules. Travelers would often have to call the airlines directly or visit travel agencies to inquire about flight options and make reservations.

This process could be time-consuming and required patience, as it often involved long wait times on the phone or in-person.

Dealing with Limited Flights

Another challenge of buying plane tickets before the internet was dealing with limited flight options. Airlines operated fewer routes and had fewer flights available compared to today. This meant that travelers had to carefully plan their itineraries around the limited flight schedules and sometimes had to make multiple connections to reach their destination.

It was not as convenient as it is now, where you can easily find direct flights to almost any destination around the world.

The Airport and Flying Experience

Before the internet, the airport and flying experience was quite different from what we know today. People had to rely on traditional methods of purchasing plane tickets and navigating airports. Here are some key aspects of the airport and flying experience before the internet.

Arriving Early was Essential

In the pre-internet era, arriving early at the airport was absolutely essential. Without the convenience of online check-in and electronic boarding passes, travelers had to allocate extra time for various procedures.

This included standing in long queues to purchase tickets, check-in at the counter, and go through security checks. The fear of missing a flight due to unforeseen circumstances was a constant concern for travelers.

Navigating Airports

Without the guidance of helpful travel apps and online maps, navigating through airports was a challenging task. Travelers relied on physical maps and signboards to find their way around the complex terminals. It was not uncommon for people to get lost or confused, especially in large airports.

Asking for directions from airport staff or fellow travelers became a common practice to ensure reaching the correct gate on time.

Onboard Amenities and Service

The experience onboard a plane before the internet era was quite different from what we have today. In-flight entertainment was limited to a few movie options screened on shared screens, and passengers had to rely on printed magazines or books for entertainment.

The availability of Wi-Fi was non-existent, meaning that staying connected during a flight was not possible. Additionally, the service on board was primarily provided by flight attendants, who ensured the comfort and safety of passengers throughout the journey.

While the airport and flying experience before the internet may have been more cumbersome in some ways, it also had its own charm. Travelers had to rely on face-to-face interactions and physical resources to navigate the airport and enjoy the flight.

It was a different era, where the sense of adventure and anticipation was heightened. Today, with the convenience of online booking and digital assistance, we can appreciate how far technology has come in revolutionizing the way we travel.


It’s clear that buying a plane ticket before the internet required far more time, effort, and advance planning compared to the ease of booking flights today. With no ability to quickly search options, make reservations, and purchase tickets online, travelers had to rely on travel agents, airlines, or airline ticket counters to book their trips.

While flying itself was a more lavish experience in some ways, the logistics of taking a trip were much more tedious. Today, we take for granted how easy it is to compare prices across airlines, book a flight on our smartphones, and head to the airport at the last minute.

The internet has completely transformed the aviation and travel industries over the past few decades.

Similar Posts