Ultra Swank - Retro Adventures

What Airports Looked Like in the 1970s

Written by Christopher Alm • January 15th, 2015
What Airports Looked Like in the 1970s

Melbourne Airport Departure Lounge in the 1970s

I have always felt that there is something cosy and homey about the color schemes of the 1970s. Dark and powerful earth colors dominated the design of the corporate, home and commercial western world. From shopping malls, to the basement den to the airport. So, follow us as we visit some airports of the period to experience what checking in was like in the 1970s.

American author Tom Wolfe labeled the 1970s as “the Me Decade”. He based this on America’s newfound preoccupation with self-discovery and self-awareness. So the design, colors and atmosphere reflected these values of course. Bright green, brown, orange, red and yellow colors ruled everything from appliances, carpets, wallpaper and sofas. Commercial buildings such as shopping malls and airports prominently featured the new “me decade”. You were meant to feel like you were still at home, all the time.

Below are bunch of photos, screenshots and postcards from Minneapolis-St Paul, Stapleton, Melbourne, Berlin and Tampa airports from the 1970s. All of the movie buffs out there will surely recognize Minneapolis-St Paul as the stand-in location for the fictional “Lincoln International Airport“, from the movie Airport (1970).

What are your favorite memories of the 1970s design?

Above: Melbourne Airport Arrivals hall in the 1970s

Above: The check-in area at Tampa Airport in the 1970s

Above: The check-in area at Tampa Airport in the 1970s

Above: Berlin Tegel airport in the 1970s

Above: The departure area of Stapleton Airport

Above: The interior of Stapleton Airport

Above: Minneapolis-St Paul Airport as it looked in the 1970s

Above: Overview of the checkin area of Minneapolis-St Paul Airport

Above: Will that be smoking or non-smoking, Sir?

Above: Better get that life insurance

Above: The departure lounge at Minneapolis-St Paul Airport

Above: Stapleton Airport in Denver

Christopher Alm

Christopher founded Ultra Swank in 2005. Has a crush on mid-century graphic design, defunct airlines, Disneyland and the Century 21 Exposition. Is a collector of easy listening music from the 60s and 70s and a Swedish expat living in Barcelona, Spain.

Find out more about Christopher Alm

  • Progrocktv

    Looking at these reminded me of how similar they were to my airport growing up, and then realized they WERE pictures of my airport! Thanks for the memories of Stapleton Airport in Denver!

  • wunderbar21

    “I have always felt that there is something cosy and homey about the color schemes of the 1970s. Dark and powerful earth colors dominated the design of the corporate, home and commercial western world. From shopping malls, to the basement den to the airport.”

    I have the same perspective and agree entirely. It was the antithesis of today’s unimaginative, clinical appearance where people are now herded on and off planes like cattle. In the 70’s, flying was a special and classy experience: people dressed presentably, staff were courteous, and amenities were not rationed by slivers.

  • Diego

    Air travel was less panicked and hurried in the 1970’s. In today’s airports passengers are mostly kept aways from outward facing windows, unless one is in club lounges. There was still a sense of optimism and I miss walking up to a ticket counter and buying a ticket spontaneously. Is that even still possible?

  • Luis Carlos Vásquez Donado

    Why can’t we have those times back. I remember as a 9 year old the real food we used to get served.

  • melissa

    I agree. I just watched the movie The Out Of Towners (1970) and really enjoyed looking at the little airport in the beginning of the movie. IMDB says it was MacArthur Airport in Islip, Long Island.

  • I believe the first one was MacArthur Airport (looking very different today) and the the one in Boston was actually Logan Airport. I love the train ride from Boston to Grand Central, makes me feel like I need to ride more trains in life.

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  • Diogenes of Sinope

    No nightmarish giant screen CNN monitors blaring non-stop propaganda,
    No TSA thugs.
    No bus station like atmosphere.

    Airport 1970 was a paradise!

  • Mark_KTO

    I don’t care about the color schemes. What I like is the fact that most people dressed decently when they flew.

  • mitchT

    If you had been living in that decade, you might never have been on a plane at all. Airfare before deregulation was extremely high, well out of the reach of the average flyer today. The passengers in these photos from the ’70’s were dressed well not only because that was what one did, but because they could afford it. Part of the reason people have such a love-hate relationship with airlines today is that airlines must compete on price alone. Commodity sellers can’t afford to be customer friendly if the customer will go to a competitor for a couple of dollars.

  • ss396

    The best airport design that I recall was the ability to meet someone at the gate. It’s kind of cold and joyless nowadays to have to trek the length of the concourse before you can meet your loved ones. It drains what used to be the excitement of arrival.

  • Lileks

    Whether or not the Era of Brown was aesthetically superior might be a matter of taste, but many of the designs above aren’t 70s buildings. The Minneapolis airport, for example. is an early 60s structure. The more restrained and simple the design, the less likely it’s a 70s airport.

  • Agreed, but the topic is about the interior look and feel of the buildings. And the 70s was predominantly dark and cosy, and the airports among many other places featured this feeling quite extensively in some cases.

  • Archie Andy

    First, the one thing I noticed is that annoying Facebook box that kept following me around the page. Expletive deleted.

  • whnp

    But where are all the Hare Krishnas?

  • K.E.Miles

    People dressed better then. I’ve seen passengers wearing pajama bottoms, no class.

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  • Mark_KTO


    Yeah, I remember those!

    However, I do not miss them!

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