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Travel Agent in the 1980s

35 Signs You Were a Travel Agent in the 1980s

35 Signs You Were a Travel Agent in the 1980s

Were you a travel agent in the 1980s? Oh, how the times have changed! Some things were simpler, but many things required a lot more time and patience. How many of these do you remember?

1. You gave your clients brochures to help guide their vacation planning.

Bonus points if you had an entire wall display for your brochures.

2. You remember looking up airfare rates on a fare sheet.

Columns and columns of numbers…

3. You’re familiar with the OAG

Does anyone remember this?

4. You’ve ever booked flights on Northwest, Braniff, Pan Am, or TWA.

Pan Am was the airline of choice for James Bond in four of his films (though he only made it onto three of the flights).

5. You remember when travelers dressed for a flight.

Sweatpants or flip flops would have been unheard of.

6. You’ve ever received a call from a client who lost a paper ticket.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to buy a new one. I will file a lost ticket claim.”

7. You can tell stories about handwriting tickets with 6+ flight segments.

Be sure to write in all your city codes!

8. You’ve had the red carbon stains on your hands.

All in a hard day’s work.

9. You didn’t need a ticket to get through TSA.

Cue scene from just about any 80’s rom-com: frantic male lead is tearing through the airport, leaping over suitcases and luggage carts to reveal his true feelings to his lady friend. If you find yourself in this predicament today, you’ll have to send a text.

10. Family members waited at the gate.

Because of those lax security rules, family members often met your client right as they walked off a flight with a big “Welcome Home!” sign.

11. Meeting up with your ride required planning.

If your ride did not meet you at the gate, carefully planning was needed. Why? You couldn’t simply shoot a quick text when you landed!

12. You remember being fed actual meals on flights.

Sure, it might have been a soggy ham and cheese sandwich with a spotty banana, but it was better than pretzels!

13. You remember when you could bring almost anything through security.

Knives with blades up to 4 inches, scissors, box cutters, drinks… the giant can of Aussie hairspray you needed to perfect your voluminous perm. 

14. Your in-flight entertainment was a book, a deck of cards, or your walkman.

…or maybe knitting yourself a new pair of legwarmers.

15. You miss the days when you didn’t have to fight other passengers for space in the overhead bin.

Checked bags were free!

16. You remember when seats were a little roomier.

Seats have gotten smaller and planes have gotten a bit more crowded.

17. There was a time you never dreamed of charging your client a service fee for anything.

Airline commissions were normal and substantial.

18. You’ve called an airline to check your client’s flight status and reconfirm.

No Google, no flight status apps, no text alerts.

19. You once encouraged your client to arrive at the airport at least 30 minutes before a flight, just to be safe.

Those were the days.

20. Your office space was decorated with postcards from happy clients.

To be honest, we kind of miss the days when the mail brought us something other than bills.

21. Security was quick, but checking in took forever.

You waited as the airline rep searched for your info in a massive, IBM computer.

22. You’ve ever done a ticket transfer.

Yes, there was a time you could actually transfer your ticket to someone else if you weren’t going to use it…

23. You’ve shown your vacation photos on a slide projector.

If your friends and family wanted to see pictures from your trip they would actually come over to your house and watch your slides on a projector. The original “social media” actually had a social aspect.

24. You wouldn’t have dreamed of taking a flat lay picture of your hotel breakfast.

This is because the number of pictures of your camera roll was limited and expensive to print. Every shot you took had to be worth it!

25. You’ve ever owned a Lonely Planet travel guidebook.

At $20-30 per country, we sure are thankful for the Internet!

26. An airplane seat armrest embedded with an ashtray wouldn’t throw you off.

Smoking was not completely prohibited on all US flights until 2000.

27. Taxes and fees for international flights were much, much lower.

We’re talking $40, not $500!

28. You know what a Rolodex is.

You held on to this system for at least 3 years after the Y2K scare.

29. You still own a set of luggage without wheels.

Thank goodness these were free to check and you didn’t have to carry it far.

30. You sent your clients a physical, paper map for their trip.

If you were really good, you probably circled their hotel, restaurants, and some important stops.

31. You know what travelers’ cheques are.

A fairly awkward currency, really. It was nice to put this one behind us.

32. You’ve ever rushed to the airport to bring your clients their paper tickets.

Obviously, this only ever happened if their flight departed at 4 am.

33. You remember when people would actually look out the window and be amazed by the fact that they were FLYING.

Today’s travelers are not even impressed with the ability to check their emails, update Twitter, and watch a movie 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. 

34. You’ve felt the pain of dealing with more than one airline merger.

Lost luggage, flight delays, lost reservation…

35. You remember when GDS interfaces were super easy to understand and user-friendly.

Oh wait, that was never! Good thing you have Centrav.com!

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Shawna Levet

Shawna is passionate about helping travel agents grow their business and expand their knowledge as travel experts. She has been in the travel industry since 2011, helping agents and travelers alike find the best negotiated airfare and travel coverage to meet their needs.


  • Don’t forget reval stickers, red carbon and fare extenders. Three part speedy reply forms and submitting the airline report every Monday with the adding machine tape. Those were days when the industry actually was fun! Alumni ‘1972; Surviving 2018

  • Nearly 40 years a full time travel professional and remember all of these plus many more . I also remember when the airlines treated us as valued partners and we worked together to take care of clients. I also remember handwriting tickets and getting that red carbon all over my hands , desk and sometimes sleeves of my clothing. Remember the OAG books and the giant binders that held the tariff pages that arrived constantly and got filed in and out?

    • … and the tariff only changed twice a year. We constructed fares when there was no published fare between 2 points. Best of all we used point before, point after and hidden points. Let us not forget the International FCUs. Forty-four plus years in this crazy business.

  • The thing I miss the most were the travel perks. Bonding with coworkers on office FAM trips was so great. The vendors would wine and dine us. So many comp airline tickets! I got upgraded on most airlines as long as I was appropriately dressed. A skirt and panty hose were the basic requirements to get bumped-up back then.

  • Love it! Also you knew what OAG stood for, and remember that huge hotel book….I don’t remember the name, but I loved looking thru it and dreaming of places to visit!

    • It was the Hotel Travel Index. Remember looking at the maps with clients to see where they wanted to stay.

  • Ah I remember it well…
    Started with Air Canada in 1964 in Montreal!
    Remember putting the Tariff book together with all its amendments.
    The ever present OAG!

  • What about a PTA or MCO….o credit card validation machine…

  • Loved the article! I still have the dent in my finger from writing airline tickets everyday. I have also run onto the plane while it was loading to say one last final goodbye to a loved one before it departed.

  • Loved all the “remember when’s” so true.

  • More:

    1. there was enough leg room to actually store your guitar at your seat

    2. Passengers dressed up to fly

    3. 24 leg around the world tickets had to assembled in a precise order with fare

  • I have been a travel agent for 40 years as of May 2019. I know the date exactly as I was hired at Neiman Marcus 3 days after I married. I was also in the second class to learn Sabre – would have been in the first but had a cold! I do remember all the things listed and some I miss but many more I don’t . One agency where I worked would close the doors at 5:00pm, open the wine and start writing tickets. Luckily, everyone got to where they were supposed to be going! I’m still love my job and enjoy working with clients to ensure they have a memorable vacation.

  • Too funny. You forgot about issuing MCO’s for fare reduction. That was the worst !! Airlines would have sales almost every 3-4 weeks faithfully and I think I knew when the sales were coming. Now………rarely.

    Hey I still put sticky notes on my computer and hand out brochures/maps. I love it 🙂

    These really bring back the good ‘ole memories. I remember looking at a ‘bible’ OAG book and pieced my airline trip together along with the price. Geeze anways !!

    How about those old fashion ticket printers. Now it’s fast or paperless.

    Thanks for all of these wonderful memories. xoxoxo

  • I remember learning how to use SABRE, PARS and APOLLO systems. And all the times I used the OAG for information and handwriting many tickets. I also remember vendors coming into the office congratulating us on high sales volume and rewarding us with all kinds of perks. I do love the business.

  • I remember flying Republic 1st class all the time, they treated us great! Then Northwest bought them out and ruined everything. : )

  • LOL, I really enjoyed this list (although I don’t think #17 was ever an option during my time.) Another item: Pre-paids! And tickets exchanges were highly complicated – but I think we also knew (know – if we were working during that time) more about how tickets and fares work! Clever ending; kudos!

  • I started in the travel business in 1955 with Eastern Airlines..(anyone remember
    them?!) and in the travel agency business since 1965. I remember all of the above and much, much more……do not miss hand-writing tickets or the tariffs among other things but I miss the relationships we had with Airlines who valued our business and actually worked with us to solve problems. Still enjoy the
    business though…..it’s been a great run!

    • I started in the travel business in 1976, and I also miss all of the above including the OAG, the hand written tickets, the conversation with the airline industry agents, how about the Reps? visiting our office and helping grow our industry, free tickets on groups, known the tour operators reps, the true relationship with the clients. I used to call the airlines and the airline employees actually knew the city codes. Most of all I missed how we all worked together to provide the travel experiences – ahh! I forgot, Travel Experiences is a new term for what we provided our clients 30 years ago on a vacation. What a full circle!

  • omg this made me giggle lol this is soooooooooo true !! i have done this since 1987 and i started out as a stewardesses, yes that is what we were called 🙂 for Eastern — I remember saying that to a new agent and she laughed and said what is an EASTERN EEKKK time to go back in the vault of time lol

  • I remember inserting pages in the tariff notebook, fare ladders, and hand cramps from hand writing tickets for groups. This was fun to read…thanks.

    • I don’t remember any of this but have really enjoyed reading this “back down memory lane” list as well as all the additions. 🙂

  • I have a ticket jacket (remember when we had tickets and jackets?). It is a Delta jacket with a picture of the Twin Towers. I will keep it at my desk as long as I am a travel agent.

  • Loved the article. Brings back memories…anyone remember how the seat assignments were done? At the check in counter the agent had a sheet of paper with a picture of a seat map. Each seat on the sheet was numbered and was actually a sticker that was then attached to the ticket…. those were the days! LOL.

  • Started at Delta in 1978. All this brings wonderful memories. I loved handwriting tickets. We valued our travel agents, so different now that I am one. Those were the days my friends!

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