Last night ABC 20/20 aired a show about the complexities and unpleasantries of air travel today. Looking at the disruptive and unpleasant scenes caused me to reflect on the time in the not-so-distant past when air travel was not only a privilege, but a wonderful experience. And the idea of a non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing for ordinary folks was nothing short of amazing. The idea of going to sleep over the Atlantic and waking up near the coast of Great Britain was adventurous if not romantic.
We first went to Europe in 1954. My parents and I flew on TWA. The 4-engine propeller plane was not a jet. Even though the trip took about 14 hours, speed vs. passenger ships was the advantage of this Atlantic crossing. But that’s where the differences began. We dressed to travel — nice clothing. Travel was elegant compared to today. We had comfortable spacious seats that converted to beds with sheets and were made-up by stewards! No self-service here. Food was prepared and served in the on-board galley. The trans-Atlantic crossing was an overnight flight so that when we woke in the morning, the aroma of coffee, eggs and bacon wafted through the cabin. Different? Low tech? You bet! Wonderful, exciting, adventurous, absolutely! The romance of my first Atlantic crossing was memorialized by this wonderful, hand-lettered certificate.
Today the cockpit doors are locked and bolted, another sign of how flight has changed. I feel fortunate that years later, on one transatlantic crossing, I sat in the jump seat of a Boeing 707 for virtually the entire trip. The view was amazing, the experience of flight from the cockpit showed me what it was like to fly. And years later, it inspired me to work towards getting my own private pilot’s license.