I’m a Boomer, born long enough ago that the first time I flew was on a TWA Superconstellation, a sleek propeller plane with triple tails. I wore a jacket and tie, so did everyone else. The Superconstellation has been gone for half a century, so has TWA and no one wears a tie to fly nowadays except the pilots. That was the first adventure in a lifetime of flying.
I have exactly one item on my bucket list (a package actually); I want to fly First Class on an Airbus A380 to Paris, take the Chunnel to Southampton and return on the Queen Mary 2. Some A380s have separate individual cabins in first class, each with a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with a shower.
I always thought the A380 would make the ideal flying cruise ship; big enough to accommodate about 100 passengers in luxurious comfort. With its 2 decks, dining rooms and lounges could be upstairs and bedrooms below. The plane would travel at night and park on the tarmac at exotic locales by day. There must be enough people with enough money in the world to make at least one of these flying cruise ships possible.
This harks back to the real golden age of air travel, the late 30s. This was the era of the Zeppelin Hindenburg, with it’s first class dining room, ranks of private cabins, catwalks inside the envelope, an observation deck on top and a smoking room – yes, on an airship filled with flammable hydrogen gas, they had a smoking room. It had an ashtray on a table in the middle of the room with a vacuum in it, designed to pull all sparks out of the airship. The Hindenburg came to its explosive end in 1937.
Around that time, Pan Am was flying the Pan Am Clippers on the pacific route to Manila and China, and to Rio in the south. The original Clippers, built by Martin, later by Boeing, were commodious seaplanes filled with luxurious comforts. A dining room, a galley, private sleeping cabins and, once again, a smoking room.
If there is a through line here, it is that I like two things while flying; smoking and sleeping, neither of which are really possible anymore. I’m a champion sleeper, I can sleep anywhere, even the dentist’s chair, so sleeping on a cramped airplane isn’t a problem. Staying awake for 7 hours without smoking, though, isn’t fun.
Here’s the deal. Apart from the dreadful fire on the tarmac in Cincinnati in 1983, when Air Canada flight 797 burned, killing Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers, smoking on airplanes has not caused any fatal incidents. In the 70s and 80s, air was circulated about 20 times more frequently than it is now in aircraft; it’s expensive to do. That’s why you get headaches now, and didn’t used when flying 20 years ago. Smoking wasn’t a problem when air was circulated that much. Another factor that led to the end of smoking was the time it took to empty the ashtrays between flights – a definite money loser.
I can’t complain; I did a lot of flying in business class in the 80s when it was still a premium service and smoking was allowed. My usual routine was a Bloody Caesar as soon as the drinks cart rolled, red wine with what was usually an exquisite little dinner, then lots of cognacs and cigarettes until we landed. I still have a complete Air Canada dinner service I occasionally set out for meals I eat alone. This libidinous approach to business class has its dangers though; I once arrived at Edmonton (Nisku International Airport, it’s called) to find I was drunk, had a large rental car waiting and a 30 km drive into the city ahead of me. I took a cab.
One of my other early flying adventures was my first trip to Europe, in 1966 when I was 12. I went with my best friend, an older girl, and we flew Icelandic Airways, at $170, the cheapest transatlantic ticket before or since. They flew Bristol Britannias, lumbering old four engine turboprops, and they had to stop in Iceland to refuel. The plane was deafening, and it was full of recent immigrants returning home, babies, goats for all I know. Because of the noise and discomfort, the brandy was free and plentiful, even for me. Thanks to this trip, I can cross Iceland off my bucket list, having deplaned and eaten breakfast there.
I don’t fly anymore. The whole exercise has become cattle-transport, demeaning and dehumanizing. I’ve been most of the places I wanted to go, I’m happy at home, and the cooking’s better these days.