Saturday, June 1, 2013

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Like many of my friends, I spend a lot of my work life on airplanes.  My clients are scattered across the United States and Internationally so it is become commonplace for my backside to be in seat 6A or 10B of some airliner headed to yet another city and hotel room.  So, it has become something I don't think a lot about.  However, this week I got a notice that a trip my wife had planned for a vacation we haven't taken in about 10 years jolted me back into thinking about air travel.  

I've been riding airplanes now for almost 40 years.  Travel back in the mid 1970s was much different than it is today. My first flight was to a baseball tournament in West Texas on Southwest Airlines, remarkably, one of the few airlines operating in the United States that is still in business.  Think back to those days of less stringent security, more luxury on the trip, and the fact that it was an event.  Travel by air was still very expensive in those days and when one got to go somewhere on an airplane it was special.  If you remember this time, air travel was considered sexy, cool, and things that celebrities, athletes, big business executives and politicians did.  The average person would usually drive their cars, take a bus, or if it was available still ride a train to get to where they wanted to go.  The "elite" that could afford air travel got treated like royalty in my eyes.   I remember flying these now defunct airlines and wonder how many of you recall the experiences when on Pan Am or Brannif.  See a sample set below of airlines that catered to both leisure and business travel, and for one reason or another do not exist anymore.

Remember Pan AM?  Pan Am was cool.  Pan Am was short for "Pan American, and it was the airline of James Bond and the Beatles (though they did fly BOAC, which is now British Airways quite a bit). When I was a kid, I thought the scenes of Sean Connery coming off a Pan Am jet in Dr. No was just about the coolest thing I ever saw.  I got to fly on a Pan Am flight before they went under in 1991.   I've always wanted to see them return for more nostalgia reasons. I thought the logo was cool, the uniforms the flight attendants and pilots wore was classy as well.  It was a shame to see it disappear.

Braniff International Airways was based at DFW Airport with a massive headquarters location called "Braniff Place".  Those of you alive in the 1970's probably remember seeing one of their garishly painted airplanes, which were bright orange, turquoise, neon green or yellow.  Their headquarters was decorated the same way. After Braniff went under, GTE leased the facility and it became GTE Place, then Verizon Place.  I worked there for GTE Directories in the late 1980's, and it was something to see when it was being prepared for GTE.  The doors of many of the offices were painted like the airplanes, the CEO had an indoor swimming pool just off his office.  The back part of the property had a golf course! No wonder they went under.   Braniff was in business for 54 years starting as a small mail carrier in Tulsa Oklahoma.  But mismanagement and staggering debt  caused the airline to cease operations in 1982.  For months, at terminal DFW, there were many planes lined up together like so many Popsicles.   One of the interesting things about Braniff was that it had a cooperative relationship with Air France and British Airways to provide Concorde service in the United States.  Braniff pilots flew the plan in the US between their hub in Washington DC and Dallas.

Eastern Airlines is another airline I remember from the  1970's and 1980's that disappeared from the scene in 1991.   Once headed by an actual Apollo Astronaut, Frank Borman, Eastern fell victim to recession, debt and high fuel prices like many other carriers did.  I flew the Eastern shuttle a couple of times from DC to New York and it was a reliable and pleasant airline.  

Probably known for being run by one of the most controversial and eccentric people of all time.  Trans World Airlines was another airline from my memory that I wish was still around. Howard Hughes invested heavily in TWA in the late 1930's and gained control of the airline from the mid-50's until 1961 when he was forced by the board to sell his shares and Charles Tillinghaust took over control.  TWA was another airline, very much in the same manner of Pan Am. It was an airline that went to cool destinations like Japan, Latin America, Europe and when we were kids the site of a big TWA DC-10 or 747 heading out of DFW airport evoked images of exotic destinations.  TWA merged with American in 2001 and alas is no more.   The last TWA flight I took was to St. Louis, its former headquarters and all of the employees were very sad about the merger with American.  Many of them had worked for TWA for over 20 years and it was like losing a family member. 

We've all seen brands come and go, but with airlines there is something emotive about seeing one disappear.  It is like losing a friend.  I fly American Airlines now exclusively because I live in DFW and have an elevated status that gets me checked bags for free, pre-boarding, access to the airline club and upgrades on many flights to first class. It's nice I suppose, but the whole thing has become workmanlike.  The chore of standing in the security lines, baggage claim lines, rental car lines, etc. has lost all of its luster from my youth.  Now, I get excited about air travel when I'm heading out with my wife for a trip to some of those exotic locations I used to dream about when I was watching the James Bond movies of my youth.

This September, Judy and I will be gong to London, my favorite city in the world, then Paris, then on to St. Petersburg Russia for 10 days.  It will be my first trip of any length to Paris and first trip at all into Russia, so am excited about seeing the new places.  I could stay in London forever, there is so much to do.  I approach this trip with a little of the enthusiasm and excitement of my youth, when I was getting on that first airplane ride to West Texas to go play baseball. 

Since that first ride, I've probably flown about 3 million miles since I've been traveling on business for over 30 years.   It's a good feeling to be able to look at this coming trip as an adventure and not a chore. 

I'd like to hear from you regarding your experiences with air-travel.  What were or are your favorite airlines?  What is your favorite destination?   Who do you think is the best airline today?

Tell me what you think.


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