By Larry Beahan
My wife, Lyn, and I don’t fly much anymore. It’s a pain – pouring hand lotion, shampoo and hair oil into test tubes, barefoot, those awful lines, uniformed agents who think they are signing you into the Erie County Holding Center instead of a pricey airborne cattle car. Wow! Didn’t his eyes pop, when X-ray detected my CPAP machine? For a second, I expected, sirens, flashing lights, a SWAT team.
Flying was different in 1939. When I was nine years old, I could not believe it when Mom and Dad picked up our (landline) telephone, called American Airlines for reservations to fly to the World’s Fair in New York City. We were going to see the Trylon and Perisphere. I slapped my forehead and tried falling over backward like in the comics.
The flight was amazing. The four of us, Mom, Dad, my little sister, Marj, and me walked out on the tarmac toward a sleek DC-3. A “Stewardess,” a Miss America in a blue uniform, beamed, "Welcome aboard." She showed us our seats, asked our names, told us to ask for anything we needed and then tended to the other passengers, a total of 21.
We had heard that American Airlines supplied souvenir playing cards, so we pulled the cord to call our stewardess. She brought us an American Airlines emblazoned deck. Marj and I began a game of “War.” A little distressed that we weren’t taking advantage of the view, she came back to point out the “patchwork quilt of farms” below. Later she called us to the other side of the plane, “That’s the Susquehanna River.” The Susquehanna remains my favorite river.
Then she and her helper put together lunch for us all: roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and peas and carrots. We asked, “Could we please keep the salt and pepper shakers?” These stainless steel beauties decorated our kitchen table for years.
The DC-3 went into service in 1936, just three years before our amazing trip.
Our next best flight was in 1982, New York to London on the supersonic Concord. A special fare that combined the Concord with a few days in London and a return on the Queen Elizabeth 2 made it possible. Lyn thought if we lived on fish and chips in England we could squeeze by.
There was no Homeland Security hocus-pocus. We dropped our bags at check-in and strolled into the gracious Concord departure lounge. An attendant in a starched white jacket showed us to overstuffed chairs and suggested we try some of the refreshments on a table covered in linen. The croissants were exquisite; the orange juice must have been squeezed for us as we walked in. Nearby a smartly dressed young man, wearing gigantic cuff links, read a newspaper. Lyn identified him as one of Kirk Douglas’s sons.
The flight was soundless. Our bulkhead seats provided glimpses into the cockpit and a constant view of the Machmeter. We marveled as it passed Mach two. The sky turned purple and then black through the Concord’s tiny portholes. Lunch was steak and lobster. When we finished eating, the four hour flight was over and we were in London.
At Heathrow, we discovered that Faye Dunaway had been on board. As we deplaned, an admiring crowd and a rock star greeted us … and Faye.
Today you are permitted to bring emotional support dogs and small horses on flights. This is nice, except for those who get trampled or bitten or are allergic to animal dander.
I’d have brought my dog, Sparkie, along to the world’s fair. He would have loved it.
Larry Beahan recalls the glory days of air travel.