The Surprising History of the Mile High Club

The mile high club is synonymous with planes, but the concept may pre-date the fathers of aviation.

Many have heard of the mile high club, but few have joined. The concept is often associated with airplanes, but it turns out the club’s been around a lot longer than that. Aristocrats were freakier than we were ever taught. They had to keep busy somehow, right?

The concept dates all the way back to 1785. An English gentleman’s club called the Betting Book at Brooks’ in London recorded a wager payout between Lord Cholmondeley and Lord Derby, two bored rich guys who were down for whatever apparently. Cholmondeley apparently challenged Derby to “get into a lady’s knickerbockers while one-thousand yards from the Earth” and Derby said, “you’re on, dude” (or whatever the British aristocrat version of that is).

According to the record books, Derby bought a hot air balloon and took it for a ride with a woman who was equally down for whatever. The two did the deed high in the sky and Derby collected 500 guineas from Cholmondeley. Thus the mile high club was born, though Cholmondeley and Derby probably didn’t come up with that because they were still operating on the metric system... and it was the 1700s. 

Enter Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina committed to being first in flight. In 1903, they finally nailed it and invented an airplane that actually flew. If only Lords Cholmondeley and Derby had been around to see it. In 1914, an American pilot named Lawrence Sperry took flight to the next level when he invented autopilot. Long flights become easier and pilots’ hands become free for… well, whatever really. 

A few years after his life-changing invention, Sperry and a woman called Cynthia Polk headed into the skies for a flying lesson. Somewhere along the way, they got distracted from the mission. Sperry and Pole were later found stark naked, treading water in a lake not far from where they took off. Sperry alleged that the plane crashed and the force of the impact ripped their clothes clean off. A likely story, guys. Tabloids ran the story with amazing headlines, perhaps the best of which was: “Aerial Petting Ends in Wetting.” That’s Pulitzer-winning stuff right there.

From then on out, something about flight made Americans super horny. In the 1930s, Stunt pilot Pancho Barnes claimed on more than one occasion that flying “makes me feel like a sex maniac in a whorehouse with a stack of $20 bills.” Can’t say we understand, but we only fly coach. Anyway, Barnes was a big fan of the mile high club, which was still pretty exclusive at that point. That is, until 1978 when the Airline Deregulation Act made more flights with cheaper fares available. Suddenly everyone could afford to fly everywhere and applications for the mile high club started flying in.

In 1992, NASA astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis met in training and decided to secretly marry. They were sent into space together on an official mission, during which they claimed nothing happened. Mile high club? More like 62-mile-high club. Not to be outdone, in 1999 two passengers on a flight from Dallas to Manchester stripped down and started going at it in the middle of business class. They don’t get far before they’re arrested, but Cholmondeley, Derby, and Sperry were surely proud.

Here’s the thing about the mile high club: it’s illegal to get down in your seat. It’s also inconsiderate to your seatmates. Hello, there’s hardly any leg or elbow room on most flights. If you and your boo head for the bathrooms, however, there isn’t much anyone can do to stop you. Bone at your own risk, folks. 

Perhaps in response to the uptick in in-flight freaks or maybe just because, airlines like British Airways and Singapore Airlines introduce first-class two-person “suites” with massive beds. Ads for the suites showed rose petals on the bed and promised free champagne, which sounds like an invitation to get down and dirty to us, but Singapore Airlines thought differently. Almost immediately the airline released a statement calling the mile high club a “particularly worrying trend” as it quickly came to light that their suites weren’t soundproof. 

Worrying or not, it didn’t slow down any. In 2007, a Qantas Airlines flight attendant was fired for allegedly having sex with Ralph Fiennes (yes, the actor) on a commercial flight. Fiennes reprised his role as Lord Voldemort that year. She wasn’t the only one who allegedly got down in the air. A 2011 Skyscanner survey claimed that 20% of people have had some kind of sexual encounter on a plane. Similar surveys, however, have suggested only 3% of people have. Can’t imagine why someone would lie about that.

In 2013, Flamingo Air launched. It sounds innocuous, but it was actually an airline basically geared toward getting folks their mile high membership. For $425, customers could get a one-hour private flight complete with a mattress, chocolates, champagne and a curtain between them and the pilot. What happens in the skies stays in the skies, right? A similar service launched in Las Vegas in 2014 called Love Cloud. It cost $800, but the plane was bigger and they threw in free lube. What a steal. 

Despite the opportunity to join the mile high club on discrete, private flights, people continue to try to get it on in coach. In 2019, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and his girlfriend were caught on camera entering and exiting the plane bathroom together. Tabloids covered it widely, but the two aren’t punished, which we’re noting for no reason at all.

The mile high club started as some horny aristocrats’ dream and became a reality. Aviation has come a long way since then and so has the club. 

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