Yesterday I read an article at CNN.com regarding the “Golden Days” of air travel. Some of the article asserted that they were not as golden as we may remember, what with high prices, limited routes and smoking allowed in planes. But the glamour of air travel in those days was also brought to mind, as regards service and amenities and the fact that air travel was pretty much restricted to the relatively well-to-do. At the end of the article readers were invited to share their own experiences regarding air travel, so I decided to share mine here.
My grandmother died in December of 1968 and left a bit of money to my mom. My mother, who always loved to travel, decided to spend some of that money the next year visiting relatives around the country. In March of 1969 we drove to northern Ohio for a few days. In June, as soon as school was out, we took the train to Atlanta. Then she decided we would fly to Los Angeles in August. Fly! Neither of us had ever been on a plane before, but were up for the adventure and I saved my babysitting money all that summer to spend in California.
The Greater Cincinnati Airport (which is quite a distance away from Cincinnati, in Kentucky) had a modest terminal building in those days, but it was still bustling and very exciting to me. We were flying on TWA, in a Convair 880, as I remember. We were in coach, and although it seemed a bit cramped, I had a window seat and was thrilled to be on a plane at all. As we sped down the runway I remember a second of doubt and turned to my mom and said, “I hope I’m going to like this,” to which she answered, “Well, if you don’t, it’s too late to do anything about it now.” But that was only for a second; as we left the ground, I knew I was going to love it, and I did.
We had boarded our flight at 4 p.m., and before long dinner was served. The menu that evening was meat loaf with an unusual, but good, sweet-and-sour sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls, a fruit cup, cake for dessert, and as many drink refills as we wanted.
After dinner my mom asked for a pillow, which was brought right away. I spent my time looking out the window, and the pilot, amazingly named “Captain Moomaw,” mentioned points of interest along the way. He talked about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which of course we couldn’t see, but the highlight for me was when he mentioned we were approaching the Grand Canyon. I had been taking pictures of clouds from time to time, but the Grand Canyon we could actually see, and the rim seemed on fire in the late afternoon sun, making for some great photos. Then we arrived in Los Angeles and I felt a bit like a celebrity myself as I disembarked, having traveled with all these very well-dressed passengers.
We spent 10 wonderful days in L.A. and the flight back was just as nice, with a beautiful takeoff over the Pacific. There was a bit of a delay at the end of the flight due to severe thunderstorms in the Cincinnati area; we circled above them for a time, with the menacing darkness swirling far below us, but after about half an hour we were able to land. My sister and her husband were there to meet us at the gate, and our journey was at an end, but what a journey it was for a 15-year-old to whom it was a great adventure indeed!
I made several flights in the years after that, and there were some very nice moments, but nothing matched the excitement of that first flight. And yes, as mentioned in the article, though it was expensive, everything was done for the passengers’ comfort, there was plenty to eat, your family could walk to the gate with you, the baggage fee was included in the price, and security fears were virtually non-existent. Those days aren’t coming back. But it was nice to have traveled during the “Golden Days” and to remember one of my favorite trips again.
(Photo of TWA Convair 880 from simviation.com)