When United Airlines Banned Women From Boarding Their Men-Only “Executive” Flights

Comfort was a big draw for passengers who booked a ticket on United Airlines’ Executive Flight in the 1950s and 1960s. For a ticket price of $67, travelers could expect to slide out of their jackets, ties, and shoes to enjoy a steak dinner and puff on a cigar. There was a 2-cocktail limit, but flight attendants largely ignored that rule. The intention was to create a congenial atmosphere that had more in common with a smoking lounge than air travel. The flight, which departed weekdays at 5 p.m. from New York City or Newark, New Jersey, and landed in Chicago, was intended for businessmen commuting for work. The fact that it had all the elements of a boy’s club was no accident. The Executive Flight was not just marketed toward men — women were actually prohibited from boarding. United’s ad made it clear: 


The initial idea was to provide an office-in-the-sky for business travelers making the 3 hour 15 minute flight from New York to Chicago. Stock market quotes were available, as was a place for passengers to make last-minute business calls before takeoff. There was also a table aboard that doubled as a work space for passengers. Upon landing, travelers received a gift — either a glass ashtray with an airplane on it or a set of cufflinks, one of which had a built-in watch. United wasn't dissuaded by the negative publicity. The sales gimmick persisted for a total of 17 years before the airline began fielding some uncomfortable questions from the National Organization for Women. As boy’s clubs on land began to crumble so did the ones in the skies. By 1970, the Executive Flight was taking its farewell voyages.