Transatlantic transportation costs in 1937

1937 Hindenburg disaster shown on cover of magazine in 1950. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

A Niche in Time: “One of the Worst Catastrophes in the World” by Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc on 9/26/17 describes the May 6, 1937 Hindenburg Zeppelin disaster than ended the age of passenger flights on rigid airships. More in a moment on the ticket prices for transatlantic travel.

Several factors led to the end of rigid airships. The disaster took out half of the Zeppelin fleet, the U.S. blocked export of helium so the German company had no choice but to use (and would have continued using) explosive hydrogen, fixed wing aircraft were emerging as an alternative (specifically the then-cutting edge DC-3), Zeppelin travel was more expensive than ocean liners, and the disaster destroyed public confidence in the Zeppelins.

Check out the full article for more details.

According to the article, here are some tidbits on the cost of travel to cross the Atlantic at the time on the luxurious, faster airships and slower cruise ships:

. 1937 cost 2017 dollars time
Hindenburg         450          7,648 ~3 days
1st class on ocean liner         157          2,668 5 days
3rd class on ocean liner           82          1,394  5 days


Let’s look at the proportionate prices. Ticket on a Hindenburg is 2.87 times the price of a first class ticket and 5.49 times the price of a third class ticket.  A first class ticket on an ocean liner is 1.91 times the price of a third class ticket.

Article tells the tragic story through the experience of a particular family of 4. The father, manager of a German pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Mexico, paid $2,250 in 1937 dollars for his family of 4 to take the trip.  Article says that is $38,240 in current dollars.

I haven’t cross checked the conversion to 2017 dollars; may do that another day. Keep in mind that luxury was in the middle of the Great Depression.

2 thoughts on “Transatlantic transportation costs in 1937”

  1. Hindenburg price- Yeah, about what the airlines are gouging us for a round-trip ticket to California anymore. Someday , there will be a blog about how much it cost to go to space in 2017 ( I’ve heard between $15 and $20 million) Crazy what it might be in our great-grandchildrens time .

    1. Hi Jim:
      Not sure what you are comparing. Looks to me like the current dollar cost to travel today is somewhere around half the costs in 1937. Most dramatic saving is the time.

      I did a cursory search for airfares. Looks like an economy seat from LAX to Heathrow is about $1,100 (round trip, not one way) with about 10 hours flight time (one way). First class price is about $6,200.

      Here is a really rough comparison
      Hindenburg – about 3 days – $7,648 constant dollars
      first class airline seat – about 14 hours (assuming two hours each end) – $3,100 cost for 1/2 of round trip ticket

      coach/third class
      ocean liner – 5 days – $1,394 constant dollars
      economy airline seat – about 14 hours (same assumption) – ~$550 cost for 1/2 of round trip ticket

      Add in the reduced cost in terms of time and the savings are dramatic.

      In ten years it will be a lot of fun to look at the drop in cost of space travel.


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