With its gleaming silver underbelly and three colossal jet engines, the Museum of Science and Industry’s Boeing 727 doesn’t really require a boarding pass to inspire awe.
But the folks at MSI decided the “Take Flight” exhibit, dating from the mid-1990s, needed an update.
“It was definitely time for a refresh and to tell a new, modern story,” explained Jeff Buonomo, a museum spokesman, at the exhibit’s opening Thursday.
Perhaps, but visitors who enter the front part of the main cabin are likely to feel as though they’ve stepped back in time — long before COVID-19 protocols, personal movie screens, and bags of peanuts tossed into your lap.
Sit back in one of the tangerine cloth seats, let yourself be seduced by the exotica sounds of Les Baxter — and you can almost imagine it’s 1964 again, the year this particular United Airlines 727 first took flight. But if you fancy a smoke, you’re out of luck. There are no ashtrays in the arm rests.
“We decided to omit them because they were going to be a toy for kids,” Buonomo said.
The re-imagined galley has a United menu from the mid-1960s that offered lobster cocktail, cream of celery soup and roast prime rib of beef — and it wasn’t even first class.
“It was the beginning. It was just an exciting time — get all dressed up and go for an airplane ride,” mused Gerry Molyneux, 72, visiting from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Just above Molyneux’s head was a hat — not luggage — rack.
Molyneux said she’d recently returned from a trip to San Diego.
“All you get are bags of nuts and pretzels — for sanitary reasons,” she said. “Now everyone gets on a plane and they’ve got their bags of foods.”
Gary Kovitz, Molyneux’s husband, has less fond memories of a particularly bumpy flight in 1966 from Fort Knox, Ky., to El Paso, Texas.
“One of the stewardesses was sitting next to me and she got sick into the barf bag,” Kovitz said. “And that was not surprising because prior to her getting sick, it was her job to run up and down and get all the barf bags of the other people who were throwing up.”
MSI’s updated exhibit has a panel explaining what causes rough air: warm air rising during storms, when wind rapidly changes direction or when air flow crosses a natural feature, like a mountain.
Chuck Jiongoco, 50, of Sugar Grove, wasn’t alive during the 1960s, but the sight of the garish seat fabric brought memories of a trip he took in the early 1970s from Milwaukee to Disney World in Orlando.
Jiongoco was 3 years old at the time, but he still remembers that trip because the plane flew right through a thunderstorm.
“You’re in this tube in the sky. It’s loud and really up in your face,” he said.
Jiongoco was fascinated by another part of the updated exhibit — a peeling back of the floor of the airplane so visitors can see suitcases — also from the 1960s — packed into the hold like sardines.
“It’s very cool,” Jiongoco said. “You don’t get an opportunity to come and see things from a bygone era. People take flight for granted, but before, it was an expensive treat. ... You were treated more as a guest than as just a flyer.”