Observations on Aircraft, Flights Good and Bad. Part 1, Rev. 2

Copyright 2007, Doug Robertson, posted on 2007-07-13



In an earlier article here I mentioned compiling a list of all aircraft I have flown and another list of aircraft I have flown in. Reminiscing, lots of oddities have emerged from nearly 60 years of flight experiences. It might be more interesting first to reflect upon some of the best and the worst of flying and flights. The following anecdotes are strictly personal perceptions and observations. Some of these flights may predate your own experience, as I made the transition from prop and turboprop airliners to jet powered commercial aircraft. I'll start with some past aircraft flown in, civil airliners and military.

Favorite standout airliners: Convair CV-880s and Lockheed L-1011 Tristars.

Favorite airline flight in the early days: Pan American World Airways Flight No. 1 (Boeing 707 series) which went around the world starting from LAX Los Angeles. I frequently took the LAX to Honolulu International HNL segment. In coach seats we were offered our choice of the Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times,  individual toiletry kits to keep,  fine meal service, silverware utensils, with entree choices and free drinks. (No inflight movies then). Those days, like Pan Am, are gone forever!

Sleekest hotrod commuter: Swearingen Metroliners.

Most pleasant first impressions and surprises: Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias, Aerospatiale ATR-42s and Fokker F-28 Fellowships.

Ugliest: Short SD3-30s (think ocean freight container with wings that the crane dropped, interior confirmatory).

Airliner that rained on you in descents: Lockheed L-188 Electras (bring umbrella if in aisle seats). Explanation needed here-the early pressurization system in the Lockheed Electras was not quite perfected at all altitudes, giving the poor stewardesses fits and attempts at weak jokes. I never encounted a male flight attendant on any domestic flights back in the day. But, there was that rain on descents affecting the aisle seat passengers.

Longest mileage non-stops: Los Angeles LAX to London Heathrow and return, and Tokyo Narita to LAX.

Longest duration out and back flights: Twelve-plus continuous hours in  US Navy Lockheed P2V5-F Neptunes in a VP Squadron.

Most memorable flight: Very first aircraft ride in a US Navy Douglas R4D.

The Missing Olives: One American airline I flew frequently always served in domestic coach flights with meal service a salad with your choice of two hot entrees. This salad was memorable in always containing two welcome black olives. This was in the days when each major airline with few exceptions had their own kitchen catering services at their major hubs preparing their in-flight meals. (Only one or two major airlines contracted with another major for their in-flight meal service, rather than having their own kitchens). After the airline got a new CEO, he ordered an investigation on just how much they were spending annually on those two olives per salad. After some investigation, his staff informed him the annual bill for olives was $80,000. Result: immediate termination of the olives in the salad. True story! And no, the airline  was not Pan-Am, and please don't ask.

Craziest flight: (airline not mentionable) LAX to Las Vegas night flight ran into snowstorm blizzard over Nevada-could not land at LAS so continued all the way to Kansas City, Missouri MCI. On announcing the new destination that was the ONLY open field in the sudden, widespread storm, the pilot stated the bar was open and the stewardesses started drinking with the passengers-unlimited free drinks and we are not talking soda pop here! We had to land at MCI to refuel for the return trip, and were not allowed to deplane. By the time we had refueled, everyone except the cockpit crew was smashed. As the LAS runways were now plowed and the airport reopened, we departed back to LAS, landing about 3:30am. Our room reservation was luckily still honored. Take a look at a map of the USA to appreciate this detour and its length. True story! (I don't think this scenario would happen today because of high fuel prices-airliners are loaded with just enough fuel to make destination with alternate reserves. Excess fuel is weight that increases flight costs. Furthermore, weather forecasting is better and such a flight might have been turned back to LAX instead, (LAX to LAS is only about a 45 minute jet flight).

Weirdest flight (in two stages): I was on a business trip to the Dallas, TX area flying into DFW during the week of the Los Angeles race riots over the Rodney King arrest trial verdict. By my Friday return date the Los Angeles County Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol had declared and were enforcing a total outdoor person and vehicle curfew with no private vehicle  driving anywhere  in  the Los Angeles area basin. I checked with Roadrunner Shuttle (a licensed public carrier door-to-door prepaid reserved airport van service) several times on Friday from Texas as to whether they could  meet my flight after arrival, pick me up at LAX and drive me about 65 miles to my home destination. They kept saying: "If you can get to LAX, we can get you home from there". My 5pm departure on an American Airlines DC-10 was delayed in leaving DFW more than one hour. We finally took off, with some apprehension as to what we would find in Los Angeles. Riots, arson fires and rifle snipings from freeway overpasses had been reported. Everything was normal about the flight until we reached the Palm Springs, California area. Our pilot then announced we couild not fly direct to LAX and ATC had instructed the flight to orbit in place, indefinitely. The pilot also stated fuel was not an issue. Have you ever orbited at altitude in a DC-10 at low cruise for 45 minutes? A constant gentle left bank was maintained at altitude, and the circle was huge! With still light at altitude, the same mountain scenery over and over was sleep-inducing.

Finally, it was announced we could not get into LAX and we were being diverted to SAN-San Diego, California. A collective groan went up in the aircraft. We landed and were unloaded into the SAN Passenger Terminal where, after some time it was announced that hotel rooms were being arranged and would be paid for by the airline. SAN does not have many evening departures at by now it was 10:30pm. About 75-80% of the full flight took American up on their offer. I and a few other Californians just wanted to get home. We hung around the American counter after the buses had departed for the hotels with the other passengers. I noted our flight crew did not depart, and they told us eventually they wanted to fly up to LAX and now had departure clearance to do so. The plane had also been refueled by now. I traveled with just carry-on luggage then, so schlepped it back onboard. I took a right hand window seat as we were routed offshore the entire short trip. The appearance of the LA basin at night without any vehicles on the lit-up roads, streets and freeways was absolutely bizarre! It was as if California was suddenly totally depopulated, except for an occasional law enforcement or fire department vehicle. Smoke and haze from the arson fires hung heavy over the cities.

Our final approach directed by the LAX tower into LAX was a light tailwind approach easterly from over the black Pacific ocean beneath, as there were still reports of rifle shootings from freeway overpasses. Roadrunner picked me up after my call, we traveled through Marina Del Rey and Venice (where the bizarreness of no pedestrians outdoors, and virtually no moving vehicles except law enforcement)  continued on the way to our Pacific Coast Highway route and finally home about 2:30am. What an experience! (DFW to LAX was normally then about a 2 hour, 40 minute flight).

Most frequent flights: LAX to HNL Honolulu and return. LAX to DFW and return, these flights were always non-stop except for the above most weird example. LAX to Washington Dulles International IAD non-stop and return. LAX to COS Colorado Springs and return always via PHX Phoenix, Arizona stop with also stop at PUB Pueblo, Colorado just south of COS. Explanation needed here-the LAX to COS flights were on America West Airline, which in their start-up years routed every flight via Phoenix, no matter what! Only after a few years when they started flying east of the Mississippi river, did they eliminate the weird routing. I was puzzled by the mandatory stop at Pueblo, Colorado which was so close to Colorado Springs. It was a good revenue location, for 15-20 passengers always debarked, and a like number got on there. I finally asked a seatmate who got on the plane at Pueblo; he smiled and said the AWA founder was from Pueblo, but decided on the Phoenix main headquarters. AWA exclusively then flew Boeing 737s.

The Eastern Shuttle: Washington National (now Ronald Reagan Washington National) DCA to New York JFK to Boston Logan International BOS and return direction. Eastern Airlines had a shuttle flight every half hour departure during the day from and between these airports. No tickets, no pre-payment, no reservations, no checked luggage, no food or drink service on these short, moneymaking flights. Just walk in the terminal-follow the arrow sign To Shuttle; there were also big white painted footsteps to follow on the walkways. Climb aboard and find a seat. When the flight was full, door would close and taxi began shortly. A purser would push a metal wheeled lockbox cart forward starting at the tail end of the aircraft. Cash or credit cards accepted. This was back in the 1960s-the Hippie era. It seemed on every flight there was a freeloader who had no funds. Stern lecture and seat noted. Cockpit crew informed. Radio message to Police Department at destination. On landing, no one deplaned until after local police boarded-miscreant arrested and handcuffed. He (usually a male) detained in seat for return trip to where he originated. The purser explained to me that his object was to get to the next city; their object was to prevent it-hence the immediate return trip for him under arrest for theft. Local police back at the flight origin then would first board the plane, take the handcuffed person off the plane to be booked and jailed. I was told this scenario happened virtually every flight leg of the shuttle at that time. I only flew the shuttle once, from DCA to JFK and had the experience to witness the above scenario play out, and the unease of the passengers sitting near him.

Airline that bumped me: On a continuation flight at Atlanta, Georgia Hartsfield Atlanta International ATL, I had a prepaid reserved seat and was a victim of airline overbooking. Not too thrilled after flying 3/4ths of the way across the US. I won't name the major airline, but ATL is their home base. After some hassle at their counter getting nowhere, I found a compassionate customer service rep on the floor who steered me to another onward flight with about a 45 minute delay from original schedule.

Lost Luggage?: Too many occurrences in my early flying career to enumerate, so I finally use carry-on luggage only. No lost luggage, no waiting for luggage. There is truth to the statement "Breakfast in Los Angeles, lunch enroute, late supper in New York and luggage in Paris, France, or perhaps Cincinnati".

Luggage Security Trivia: In the very early days of commercial flying I always checked a man's Samsonite two-suiter gray colored luggage in the aircraft's baggage hold. After 20 years, the luggage hinges broke and I purchased an identical Samsonite replacement; gray man's two-suiter. The supplied set of new keys was IDENTICAL to the original 20 year old set of keys. Makes you wonder! 

If this article has amused or otherwise diverted you to the very end here, stay tuned for my Part 2 on my boring list of all aircraft flown in, and my shorter list of aircraft that I have flown. 

Note: Clay Lacy's restored 1945 DC-3C Mainliner O'Connor N814CL is not linked back to that aircraft's profile page-it merely sets the stage for the era of this article. Douglas DC-3s were still in some smaller airlines' service then.


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