The Jet Engine and the Revolution in Leisure Air Travel,
Air transport for European tourists got off to a shaky start in the late 1920s. 1
But it was to be thirty
years before leisure air travel was to appeal to anyone but the rich and adventurous. High cost, fear of flying and the absence of toilets in early airliners (an unfortunate combination) were the main deterrents; the unpressurized aircraft of the inter-war years were noisy, slow and not especially comfortable despite the efforts of some airlines to make aircraft cabins resemble the first-class state- rooms of an ocean liner. This changed fundamentally after 1958: with the introduction into airline service of the Boeing 707, the Douglas DC-8 and the de Havilland Comet 4, aircraft were capable of flying fast, high and with hitherto unknown smoothness. The jet age had arrived. This paper considers this "age" and its impact on tourism in the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that while the revolution in European leisure air travel that took place in these years was obviously the result of social and economic change (more disposable income, a greater propensity to take foreign holidays and the entry of new capital into the independent airline industry), there was also a critical additional factor. This was the breakthrough in transport technology represented by the jet engine and it is on this aeronautical artifact that the paper's main focus will lie.
Technological change was crucial to the process of economic and social modernisation in both the 19 th
centuries. New technologies of power generation, manufacturing, transport and communications changed the world and shrunk time and space. What is generally termed "Fordism" grew out of the mass production of automobiles to encompass a whole array of practices and institutions that now underpin modern Western society
. In the wake of Fordist mass production, a
Fordist lifestyle of mass consumption set in after 1950 and this included the international tourist industry, the single largest and fastest-growing industry in the world 3
The technological change that triggered and accompanied this explosion in tourist activity was the introduction of the jet engine. Indeed the jet engine has been as vital a part of social modernisation as mass tourism itself. The jet engine's evolution and dominance in aerospace propulsion since 1950 is traditionally described in terms of the transfer of technology from military to civilian usage: the turbo- jet grew out of the Second World War and the preparation for it, and was later installed in civil transport aircraft. Certainly all the early jet engines were intended for military aircraft and, as one of the leading researchers in the field has pointed out, the development of turbo-jets is "a striking example of the commercialization of military technology."
The point to be made here, however, is that the
progression of jet engine use from military to commercial aircraft was not just a case of technological determinism; there is also a social dimension. International tourism became a mass industry in the 1960s because it became fast - it became what one might term "speed tourism" (the qualities of which we will return to later) - and it became fast because of jet aircraft. The theoretical background to this proposition lies in the idea of the social construction of technology pioneered by the sociologists Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch. According to the social constructionist view, technological change is socially determined rather than technologically inevitable, in other words, it is social rather than technological processes that lead to a sole dominant meaning for a technical artifact. Initially a broad flexibility of interpretation will attach itself to a piece of technology - let us say the jet engine - but eventually, through action within the social and economic environment in which the artifact...
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