12 SEPTEMBER 2011
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Last week’s ON TOUR article by Jo Bacon on the perils of travelling to and within the United States provoked an interesting postbag, mainly of similar occurrences. However the one that took our eye was the following from Tony Hesketh-Gardener, commenting on what one might consider “the golden age of air travel”. Which reminds one of the joke regarding the Boeing Stratocruiser and its four engines. The problem with the aircraft was the lack of room for a fifth engine (think about it). The early 747s were no better, and we will not mention the (American) engine manufacturer’s name. Was it really the 'golden age’?
Tony HG (now 75) went to public school, and on to Sandhurst. Back in civil life he launched Jane’s Defence Weekly and a number of other publications in the military field before resigning from the Board of Jane's to become the first European Director of Defense News. In later years he was very much involved with the Farnborough Air Show. One of the characters of the industry he considers himself a sportsman (retired) and a medical expert of sorts (having attempted to enter that field at the end of his school days).
Jo Bacon certainly had a horrendously torrid trip.
It makes me realise how very fortunate I was when I used to make four 10-day trips to the US every year from 1976 to 1986. In that time I would make 12 flights, flying into Washington DC on Sundays in order to attend the three day military shows at the Sheraton. I always left there after breakfast on the Thursday, have lunch and tea with clients in St Louis and dinner either in Ft Worth or LA before hedge hopping to visit various defence companies around the country. This meant taking 10 flights in five days, so schedules were tight, very tight.
Once, when flying from St Louis to LA I was told that my flight had been cancelled due to fog, but was offered an alternative flight to Ontario. No, I did not know until that moment that there was a non-Canadian Ontario. TWA’s Ontario was just outside LA!
The only other hiccup was when my TWA flight from LA to London had been cancelled and the clerk arranged for me to travel back on Pan Am.
Although I was entitled to fly Business, my expenses budget would have covered only two trips, so I always flew tourist. Naturally, I was upgraded from time to time but was always treated wonderfully well in Economy.
Furthermore, my baggage never went astray, ever; not even my skis or golf clubs.
On one glorious occasion, I arrived at Heathrow to find that TWA had over-booked their Boston flight – I was going over one day early to spend the Saturday night with a client. Despite my Ambassador Club membership, all I was offered was a couch to sleep on in their lounge! So I moved 10 yards sideways to the Pan Am desk, presented my Clipper Club card and told them my hard luck story. One of the clerks said that they had one First Class seat available to DC and that he would arrange my transfer from there. He then asked that, as a Clipper Club member, if I would mind paying a Club Class fare instead of First!
I offered my Amex card and his words were "That will do nicely!" Truly.
On board, I asked the stewardess about the transfer and she said that she would make further enquiries. She later came back with details of my Eastern flight to Boston. When we landed at Dulles, she escorted me off the plane, took me to the front of the immigration line, stayed with me until my case arrived, led me through customs to the cab rank, gave the driver a slip of paper and told him to take me to National. When we arrived there, I asked how much I owed and he said that Pan Am were paying. There had been a lot of traffic around and I knew that I was too late for my flight. However, when I went to the check-in, I found that the flight had been held back 20 minutes to await my arrival! Naturally, I wrote a letter of appreciation to the Pan Am president, who replied within a few days. My letter had been opened by his PA, who happened to know me well as she was the wife of a dear friend and client, both of whom had stayed with us here in England and reciprocated the hospitality when I was in New York!
Those were the great days of flying.
Only one problem.
Pan Am is no longer with us, nor Eastern or TWA. But the same airline that Jo Bacon had her troubles with was also flying, somewhat basic even then. Is there a moral in the story?
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