See How Much It Cost to Fly 30 Years Ago

Updated: Nov. 24, 2022

Hint: It's probably not what you might think.

If these vintage plane photos are proof of anything, it’s that flying looks a bit different than it did years ago. Long gone are the days where people meet at the gate, smoke on the plane, or bring virtually any and everything on board. The cost of flying has also changed a lot over the years—but not how you might think.

The price of a plane ticket costs less today

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the average domestic roundtrip base airfare in 1990 cost $288 or $554 in today’s dollars. The most recent data from the department states that the base fare for the same type of ticket in 2018 is $340. That’s almost a 40 percent decrease in price per mile, according to another study from Compas Lexecon. If you include the average bag fee, the price in 1990 is $556 in today’s dollars and $362 in 2018, respectively. If these numbers sound large, you might not be getting the best airfare possible.

Note that the data doesn’t include government-imposed taxes or fees and is based on a 10 percent sample of airline tickets from reporting carriers. Keep that in mind, the cost of a flight also hasn’t been a straight decrease over time. Although flights were more expensive during and before the 1990s, the price steadily declines until 2011 when prices increase before decreasing again, per the data from the DOT.

But that doesn’t mean it costs less to fly today

The reason ticket prices are lower than they were almost 30 years ago is because airlines no longer include more than the basics in a standard ticket. And tickets from back in the day had more value. Economy seats in the 1950s look more like the business class section today, Fast Company reports. Although the price of a ticket is less today, you’re losing some things like extra legroom or in-flight meals which aren’t always part of the price of a flight today or are la carte. This change is partly to blame for actually making the cost of flying today more than it was years ago—even though the sticker ticket price is less, according to the Business Journals.