Vintage Airline Seat Map: United Airlines DC-8-52

I’m taking you back to the 1970s for this installment of Vintage Airline Seat Maps with a United Airlines DC-8-52. Seating a total of 12 passengers in first class (four more in the lounge) and 124 in coach (five additional in the rear lounge), this aircraft exited service with United around 1980. The most shocking detail to we modern day flyers is the seat pitch in coach at 38”, which is the same as first class on this bird. This, of course, was in a day of more civility and the soft product in first class had to be simply amazing. Heck, I’d assume even the service in coach was top-notch! Also interesting to note are the seat widths and that United revealed the middle seats in coach were 0.2” shorter at 16.4” total. I think the minimum width these days is 17″.

In first class you’d find me in row two and definitely in a window seat, as the windows on the DC-8s seemed exceptionally large. I had flown on United’s DC-8-70s in the 1980s and noticed then just how large they were. Just about any seat in coach would be a good pick, but you’d find me in the first two rows for a great view of the wing & engines. The darker brownish shaded areas were the smoking sections.

Where would you sit?

Image courtesy United Airlines

As an added bonus for this post, check out this short video of a United DC-8-52 apparently on display right here in Los Angeles at the California Science Center. I didn’t see it listed as an exhibit on their website just now, but will definitely put a call into them. If it’s there I’ll certainly go for a visit!

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  1. Knowing what part of town the Science Center is located that DC8 must be covered in graffiti by now…..looks like a perfect place for a Banksy copycat to do some work!!!

  2. They didn’t sell the lounge seats, did they? They were purely for visiting, right?

    Any idea what routes UA used the dc8 on? These could make it TATL, iirc.

  3. @Nybanker: I’m guessing they didn’t sell those lounge seats. United didn’t fly an international route until the early 1980s, so I’d bet the DC8s were on the long-haul domestic runs including probably Hawaii flights. I flew on a few of ’em in the mid- to late 80s on pretty short routes like ORD-DTW & ORD-IAD.

  4. @Matthew: Good to know. I searched a bit more online & it looks like they’ve repainted it in a vintage livery & raised it off the ground. Still might swing by on Saturday to take a look after the airline collectible show near LAX.

  5. Great post. I flew these DC-8-52s in the early days of my now 30 years of non-stop United frequent flying. What strikes me is that this is even smaller in terms of passengers than the 737-300.

    A few points:
    1) The 38″ pitch was pegged exactly to those big Douglas windows. That’s why coach and first had the same pitch and why when you had a window seat in either seat on these birds was pretty magnificent. (When UA converted its DC-8-61s to 71s, they put in new-style seating which didn’t follow the windows, ie more seats!)
    2) That 38″ pitch is not quite as generous as it seems simply because airline seats then were much, much thicker. Some of those inches were gobbled up by seat size, but still it was much more comfy than today.
    3) That slightly more narrow middle seat? Back in the regulated airline days pre-1979, they were not often filled. The UA middle seats could fold down so coach passengers regularly folded down the middle seat which gave them a large table-like area. between the window and aisle seats (In the late 1960s, UA even went to 5-abreast seating in coach on its DC-8s, those were very comfy.
    4) The lounges were not massively used. The regular seating with the middle seat down was so comfortable that there was little reason to head to the lounge. The policy was that the lounge seats were allocated if the flight was over-booked. Given that the *middle* seats were not often sold during these cushy regulated times, the lounges when I was aboard these things were mostly empty.

    Note: I often fly now for less in actual dollar figures than I could on the same route in 1978 – and that’s not taking inflation into account – so when people complain about the decline of airline comfort, I say I’m happy to have the option of flying for what is far less than I did 30 years ago. I can always upgrade, sit in E+ etc.

  6. @No-Doz: Wow, what fantastic information! Thanks so much & I bet it was indeed a much different experience during the heavily regulated years.

  7. Thank you for the shout-out to the California Science Center’s DC-8! The video shows how the plane was orginally displayed. It has since been moved and incorporated as part of the entrance to the Science Center School. Positioned on pylons above a circular driveway, parents can drop off students beneath the DC-8’s wings. A DC-8 page will soon be added to our website for future reference.

    • Hi Paula, Thanks for the additional info. I stopped by last Saturday & took a number of pictures and videos I’ll be posting on my blog soon.

  8. How can anyone tag that?? its a piece of art and history!…will have to defly check this out next time I’m in L.A.!!

  9. I was an airline employee during the 1970’s, and one time I was pass-riding on United from NYC to LAX. First class was full, but rather than put me in coach, I was simply plunked down in the first class lounge for the duration of the flight. Same free drinks, same great service.

    The first class meals on the long-haul flights could be quite impressive. Start with a cocktail. Then an appetizer. Then a salad. Choice of five entrees. Yes, Five. Then cheese and fruit and/or a sweet dessert. Wine with the meal, after dinner drinks. It was lovely.

  10. I flew the DC8 LAX-EWR in 1968. I was stand-by and boarded last. They put me in the only seat available which was in the coach lounge. I sat there for the entire flight. I thought it was cool at the time. Those were the days for flying in comfort, and a suit. I was thinking about those days last summer on a flight RSW-ATL next to some slob in a bathing suit and smelled like sun screen, in FC.

  11. When I was youngster in the mid to late 60s I have a recollection of flying seated on something of a curved couch in the forward part of the cabin. Does this sound familiar to anyone. Does anyone have an image of this? Thanks!

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