June 22, 2021.   Flashback.

For some of us, few things get the nostalgia flowing like vintage airline advertisements. This one is from Gourmet magazine, of all places, in 1976.

There’s a lot to pull from here…

For starters, looking at the collage of tails, we spy three classic carriers that no longer exist: Sabena, Swissair, and of course Pan Am. Of all the many airlines that have gone out of business, few were more historically significant than these three.

The ad also celebrates the advent of the Boeing 747SP — the short-bodied, long-range 747 variant that debuted in the mid-1970s. This focus on aircraft type is a hallmark of older ads and something rarely seen any more. When was the last time an airline spent advertising dollars to boast about a particular plane? It made sense in the 1970s, when models were vastly different from one another and some, like the 747 or Concorde, were media stars. Nowadays, with jets so tediously similar, carriers don’t bother and passengers couldn’t care less.

With that in mind, notice that every tail in that panel except for one features a 747. The single exception is the Aeroflot image, which shows an Ilyushin IL-62. These were the days when you could be at Kennedy Airport and watch ten or more 747s take off in a row.

And, of course, the whole premise of the ad — Iran Air showcasing a new link between Tehran and New York — is itself striking. How things change. Iran in 1976 was still three years away from its revolution, and the country’s national carrier was a regular visitor to New York.

Neither did they shy away from including an El Al tail (top row, third one in) up there with the others. This implies that El Al offered a connecting service to Tehran from New York, presumably via Tel Aviv, which is maybe the most remarkable aspect of the entire page.

I visited JFK in June of 1979, when I was a seventh grader. I remember standing in the rooftop parking lot of the old Pan Am terminal and looking down at an Iran Air 747. (In a box somewhere at my parent’s house, a photo of that plane might still exist, snapped with an old Kodak pocket camera loaded with 110 film.) This was immediately after the revolution began, but about five months prior to the infamous hostage crisis that helped sour US-Iran relations for the next forty years and counting.

Plenty of vintage ads take us back, as the saying goes. The best of them also take in a little history, culture, and geopolitics along the way.

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