Did Early 20th-Century Commercial Airplanes Use Wicker Chairs to Seat Passengers?

Coach today had nothing on those flights.

Published Jun 16, 2023

 (Screenshot via Twitter)
Image Via Screenshot via Twitter

Air travel in the first half of the 20th century was far from comfortable, even as it was not accessible to most travelers. Flying in a commercial vehicle was loud, cold, and bumpy, with cabins that were not pressurized, and passengers who were suffering from air sickness. 

One photograph claimed to show the interior of a 1936 commercial airplane complete with wicker chairs as passenger seats, under the British empire-era company Imperial Airways, which operated from 1927 to 1939 (at which point it merged with British Airways).

The above photograph was indeed a common seating choice for that time period. Using a reverse-image search, we found a slew of similar commercial airplane interiors for Imperial Airways and other airlines from the 1920s to the 1930s. 

The above colorized image did not appear to have a reliable source, being largely reposted on social media sites and blogs. We found a close-up, black-and-white version of that same image from the British Airways archives, which shows a similar interior with two circular plaques on the wall in front next to a square window. The shape of the chairs, the curtains, even the netting above the chairs (presumably for carry-on items), and the light fixture at the front of the cabin all appear to be the same as in the above tweet. However, this is a cabin from the 1920-1929 British Airways archives, and not from 1936 as the tweet claims.

We should note, however, that it is possible that such a cabin with the same design was still in use in 1936.

(Screenshot via

Handley Page was a British aerospace manufacturer that merged with Imperial Airways in 1924.

Boeing's associate technical fellow PJ Wilcynski researched historical cabin architecture by going through Boeing's archives and shared his findings with Travel+Leisure magazine, noting how wicker chairs fastened to the floor of the aircraft were among the earliest forms of passenger seating. 

By the late 1920s, he said, the wicker chairs were lined and padded with leather to make them more comfortable. 

"Leather was very popular because it allowed them [staff] to wipe down the seats easily because of all of the soot from the airports and dusty runways where the aircraft would land in the early days," Wilcynski told Travel+Leisure.

Wicker chairs were a popular choice in the early days largely because they were lightweight, according to a Virgin Atlantic analysis. By the late 1930s, aluminum tube seating took over, with thick leather seatbelts, thicker padding, and velour covers. 

British Airways archives from 1920-1929 showed numerous passenger cabins with wicker chairs facing each other, as well as in the same direction in the cabin, and Imperial Airways Armstrong Whitworth Argosy passenger cabins with chairs that appeared to have more padding on them. 

(Screenshot via

(Screenshot via

By the 1930s the available photographs from British Airways appeared to show much more upholstery on the chairs. 

A photograph from another angle shows a 1924 Imperial Airways airplane using wicker chairs as seen below. According to Getty Images: "Completed in 1924 as a reconnaissance flying-boat, this aircraft was later (1927) converted into a 10-seat passenger machine for use by Imperial Airways for cross-Channel services." 

(Getty Images)

An undated photograph from Getty Images showed a similar cabin that was described as the "luxurious" drawing room of the "Handley Page Pullman London-Paris passenger plane." The chairs in this photograph appear to be upholstered with leather or cloth and are similar to other cabins of that time with lamps, curtains and the trappings of a comfortable drawing room. 

(Getty Images)

The below undated photograph's caption says this image was captured on a German airline that screened "the first ever in-flight film." Passengers were clearly seated on wicker chairs.

(Getty Images)

Getty Images does not share which airline is shown in the picture above or when it was taken. But according to Lufthansa Systems—a technology service provider for the aviation industry— the 1925 silent film "The Lost World" was one of the first shown to passengers on an Imperial Airways flight traveling over Germany. The Smithsonian, however, reported that the first in-flight film was "Howdy Chicago!" and it was shown on a 1921 Aeromarine Airways flight during Chicago's "Pageant of Progress" business and industrial exhibitions. 

A Getty Images photograph from 1935 (similar to the one available in British Airways archives from the same time period) showed an Imperial Airways cabin interior with floral patterned seats that looked like couches. The caption on the image stated: "A view of the forward passenger cabin of an Imperial Airways Handley Page HP42E Heracles airliner, as normally used on the Paris to London route, total accommodation was for 38 passengers." 

(Getty Images)

Wicker chairs were among the earliest forms of seating for airplane passengers in the 1920s, with padding and other comforts reportedly added on in subsequent years. While it is possible that the above tweet does show a cabin from 1936, we found an example of that same cabin from an archive depicting airplane cabins in the 1920s. The photograph is still an accurate example of the use of wicker chair seating in airplane cabins from the early 20th century. 


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Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.