Lost luxury: the Boeing 314 flying boat

Here's a collection of images of the long lost Boeing 314 flying boat, the luxury skyliner that plied the skies in the 1930s and 1940s, and which came complete with sleeper bunks and formal dining:
The Passenger Compartment: The interior of the passenger cabin was the height of luxury for the time, and would surely impress today. In the lounge, travelers had room to spread out and play backgammon or put together puzzles. When it was meal time the lounge converted into a formal dining room, complete with fine china and five star service. When the evening arrived, all compartments converted into bunks with dark curtains and high quality sheets... perfect for dreaming of warm Pacific beaches.
Vintage Luxury: Boeing 314 Flying Boat in Detail (Thanks, ghaitched, via Submitterator!)


  1. There is a replica in Fownes in Ireland if you want to relive the Glory Days. Fownes was a major stopover for transatlantic flights.

  2. Is it really a lost luxury?

    I mean, the people who took these flights back in those days aren’t really rubbing elbows with todays passengers in economy or even business class, if they do not use a charted or their one luxury plane at all.

    I mean, back at home I own a car (okay, my wife does), two computers and a couple of iDevices. Undoubtedly unattainable luxury in 1940 or in 1970, but I still have to cook my own meals, clean my own shoes, etc.

  3. What did a ticket cost back then?…I’d wager it’s higher than a First Class ticket today in adjusted dollars.

  4. Really classy way of traveling, but before we get too nostalgic, we should remember that most of us couldn’t afford (and could not have afforded) traveling like this. ;)

    A lot of air traveling being quite affordable today has to do with abandoning the luxuries of this era, unfortunately.

    Also I guess at least in the noise department todays planes are much more comfortable.

    1. Exactly. You can charter a Gulfstream G500 for around $7500 per hour, and that gets you Mach .85 and a 6,600 mile range for 14-18 people.

      We don’t see “luxury” flying because we’re paying bottom dollar to be packed into flying buses.

  5. This looks pretty cool, but as others said, If you have the money, you can get that on a fresh A380, maybe without the Lai … I was hoping that article would have said how much a ticket in that old Boing 314 was, converted into today’s money …

    1. From the Wikipedia article on Pan American Airways:

      The fare from San Francisco to both Manila and Hong Kong in 1937 was $950 one way (approximately $14,653 in 2010) and $1,710 round trip (approximately $26,376).

    1. At least four reasons for a lack of commercial fly boats:

      1) The extra drag of the floats really kills the fuel consumption.

      2) Planes with wheels can land in many more places; float planes would be limited to certain (coastal) cities.

      3) Landing on water is rougher (for the passengers) than landing on a runway.

      4) Taxiing to the departure gate takes longer on water, and, once again, will not be as smooth of a ride.

      Float planes still have their places (say in Alaska where there are lots of lakes and not as much flat land) but they’ll never be in much demand especially for large commercial flights.

  6. Just love that scene in Raiders (with Dennis Muren hiding behind the Life magazine); later, when I learned about the actual cost of a fare on this plane, I figured that either that Spielberg / Lucas must have been making some subtle commentary about Government overspending and extravagance, or that they just thought the flying boat was wicked cool. The latter, most likely.

    as a random side note, Ken Follett’s Night Over Water was a decent read, I recall.

  7. The most impressive thing, to me, is in the cutaway view. Check out the guy cranking the propellor by hand! Men were really men back then.

    1. in-flight maintenance. Was even done on the outboard engines of the zeppelins (now that’s a workforce i can respect).

      And travel back then was for the few and well off (unless you had some connection to a expense account). The rest barely traveled within their county. And if one where to be away for a day or more, one dusted of the finery. This is why everyone seems to wear suit and tie.

  8. I love these old flying boats!

    There’s one particularly whimsical-looking one that I love called the Savoia-Marchetti S.55. Check it out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savoia-Marchetti_S.55

    @AGC I’m not certain, but I think that one of the main reasons these planes faded from the mainstream was the proliferation of runways during WWII. Prior to the war, runways were still uncommon in many parts of the world. But during the war, militaries were building them everywhere…

  9. I would not call it lost luxury. If there were a market willing to shell out $100,000 to cross the atlantic, per head, I can assure you, airlines would find all kinds of cool things to do on 747’s and A380’s. The only reason you had this was the need for extreme size in the aircraft because of fuel needs which made for huge cabins you could not fill because of power limitations on the engines of the day. Driving this was the only alternative to crossing oceans took days to about a week in a half. So a sharp step from standard methods to air travel and the limitations of fuel consumption and delivered power, and pow, you get this a flight across the Atlantic that’s never filled, that costs as much as good sized upper class house at the time for a one way trip. No airline could ever use this approach with the vacationing masses who cross the Oceans every year that dwarf even the wettest dreams of military logistians who may dream of the old days of building an air bridge to re-enforce NATO troops during a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. While our air travel is cramped, boring, and sometimes worse, it’s a marvel of engineering meeting civil needs.

  10. Totally cool: the planes linked in these comments are even more awesomer if possible. . .

    Ah to have enjoyed the privileges of the privileged few back in the day; yet today I can fly to HK for under a grand, with inflight entertainment undreamed of by those cognoscenti of the past, in 13 hours or so. . .even squished and surrounded by my fellow cattle: I’ll take it.

  11. Much nicer than how I get around, but I think it’s a safe bet that the wealthy passengers in those photos would still be in awe of the luxuries available to today’s high-end air travelers. Consider:

    * Private jets- The rich don’t have to share transportation with other rich people anymore.
    * Much faster travel- until recently you could even cross the Atlantic faster than the speed of sound!
    * Phones/TV/Video on Demand/Internet sure make “puzzles” look like a quaint form of in-flight entertainment.
    * While the food in those old photos looks pretty good I still bet that the ultra-rich get better today. The flying boat doesn’t even appear to have an espresso machine!

  12. I half expected this comments thread to mourn the days of airborne luxury and to lament the cramped conditions of modern economy class… but I’m glad that Boing Boing commenters are too smart for that, realizing that the existence of cheap air travel is amazing and that luxurious air travel is still available to those who can afford it, and even then it’s not as expensive as it used to be.

    Even though I work for Boeing, I must admit that the most luxurious in-flight accommodations that can currently be had through a regular airline ticket (i.e. excluding the chartering of private aircraft) are probably in the Emirates A380 first class. It has a shower. A SHOWER, people!


    But back to the topic here; One year ago this week I saw an excellent talk about the Boeing 314, its history and design and service and eventual end. It’s a shame that none are left. But two did sink to the bottom of the ocean, I think one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific. They had engine trouble, landed, the people inside were rescued by US Coast Guard ships (this was around World War 2), and the Coast Guard decided to shoot the airplanes until they sank since they were “hazards to navigation”. And now there are teams trying to find the wrecks. I do hope they succeed!

    And from an aesthetic point of view, I think that old seaplanes are just about the most beautiful airplanes every to slip the surly bonds of earth. The Martin Mars, the Short Solent… I really want to go see a fire-fighting Mars fly before they’re retired (or am I already too late?), and I treasure every chance to see a Grumman Albatross or even a Widgeon fly at an airshow.

      1. Cool! I thought the last one of these was the one in Oakland CA, which sadly does not fly. It used to belong to Howard Hughes (according to Wikipedia, FWIW) and appears in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

        One million dollars, eh? Lemme see how much I got on me… Nope, sorry :[

    1. No, you’re not too late. The Martin Mars are still flying fires; aside from Evergreen’s one firefighting 747 they’re the biggest tankers out there.

      I think Coulton – http://www.martinmars.com/ – are currently running one tanker and laying the other up, alternating seasons to keep the old girls going.

      I had the priviledge of watching both Mars attack a forest fire together on the Gulf Islands between Victoria and Vancouver a few years ago, coming back from Vancouver on the ferry. Awesome aircraft!

  13. In some ways the world was a smaller place before WWII than after and I think that in the history of flying boats rest clues to the future of space transportation. The flying boat was a simple solution to a critical problem for the growth of the nascent airline industry; the cost of the air transit infrastructure on the ground that investment was hard to win for. The flying boat partly circumvented this infrastructure overhead, expanding the global reach and making some very inaccessible parts of the world much easier to access. And it wasn’t until that point in time that passenger air service started to demonstrate a general sustainability. Bear in mind, this was a time when planes were still limited in potential economics of scale by being limited to supporting grass runway landing -which basically put an upper-limit on the mass of a plane. But with WWII came a compulsory public investment, for the war effort, in a massive global air infrastructure that could support large planes. Turned-over to civilian use after the war, this opened up many new strategic destinations with large markets of scale, which in turn meant that you could now support huge aircraft with large minimum operational economies of scale yet low per-seat ticket prices. But at the same time. more remote destinations unable to support these economies of scale were abandoned. While more middle-class people could fly than ever, many remote areas lost all air service altogether. This is one of the key things that makes marine settlement difficult. There’s no technical obstacle to building habitable structures at sea. But, logistically, it’s very tough because we have very few transportation options to support remote communities that have populations less than the millions it takes to justify a single international airport.

    Consider what this suggests about the nature of near-future space transit. What New Space based on the premise of space tourism is currently pursuing is an economic equivalent of flying boats. Like flying boats, its coping with a problem of marginal infrastructure where the tourist destinations are remote wilderness outposts. But we know that probably can’t achieve the ultimate objective of CATS (cheap access to space) for the mainstream -a Pan-Am Orion- for the same reasons flying boats were a dead-end; because, once a transit technology has approached the plateau of its potential operational parameters (reached the point where you’re past radical breakthroughs and into incremental improvement), it must seek to expand operational economies of scale to reduce unit payload costs. To get to a Pan-Am Orion, space tourism probably has to get to the scale of a whole Orlando Florida on orbit. Can it realistically do that? The technology doesn’t just ‘trickle down’ in accessibility from rich first adopters. Transportation systems are physically engineered to suit specific operational economies of scale and the limits in the possible scalability of that operational economy of scale determines the limits of the markets of scale needed to support a particular price-point. For air transit to become middle-class affordable planes had to become behemoths limited to a range of destinations supported by markets of millions of people! Cost of space transit is thus interdependent with the scale and nature of the activities in space and the destinations that creates -which, of course, is exactly why launches are so expensive today. Rockets aren’t expensive because they’re somehow flawed or primitive. They have evolved so far to support the transit of enormous Faberge eggs (satellites) that have huge inherent value -and hence launch risks- yet still ridiculously small markets of scale compared to something like cruise ships, which is why dozens of cruise ships may be built a year but new launch systems -which cost about the same as a large cruise ship to develop- are few and far between. To put it all simply, it’s not about the design and technology of vehicles, its about the nature of the destinations.

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