There was a very good article in “The New York Times”
Whatever Happened to First Class?
By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: February 10, 2012
that I really liked and I wanted to share my own memories since I started flying when I was nine months old and stopped abruptly when my free airline tickets, from my dad, who worked for TWA, stopped at my ripe, young age of twenty-one. Or at least not yet twenty-two.
Flying was my dad’s dream, and no, he was not a pilot even though in his heart he thought he was. He worked in offices and volunteered extra shifts if there was an accident and flew to St. Louis to buy fresh milk for my older sister when there was a milk strike in NY. He loved everything about flying and traveling with our mother and when we were children we came along, almost always. A visit to Grandma’s house for us was to fly to Vienna, Austria or Tel-Aviv, Israel. I thought nothing of it as a child, it’s what we did; my older sister and I did have to get dressed up in a matching sweater and skirt sets, identical (except for color and size.) We were not allowed to wear pants, God forbid jeans. We had to dress up formally before each flight, our dad’s rule because we were flying “subject to space” which meant we would try for a flight but since we were “non-revs” (non-revenue passengers) we never knew when we would be able to get on a particular flight, looking good wasn’t optional in our house. We had no choice. In fact, back then, everyone dressed up for a flight, there were no jeans or sweat pants….they didn’t exist.
If the flight was fully booked our dad would make the shape of a hanger with his hands and shake his head dejectedly. We knew that meant “a cliff-hanger” fully booked, not a great chance of getting on but we would go anyway. There were times we were already seated and buckled in and the door closed when in dreadful embarrassment they called our names over the intercom and we had to unbuckle, get up, gather our bags and belongings and march or rather limp off the plane if paying passengers had arrived. Mortifying.
We may have complained about getting up at four in the morning to go to Phoenix, AZ. but once we were on the flight, our vacation had started. Flying was part of the vacation not like now where it is something to live through with great dread and anticipation. Was there a difference in first-class and economy? Sure, but either was fine. We always went economy (and we could stretch across 3-4 seats back then) until one day I think we begged our dad to try first class, it was a matter of twelve or eight dollars per person. It was hard to go back to economy after that.
First class had luscious, huge seats, especially for young adults, a printed menu with delicacies to choose from. I’m drooling just remembering them. Beef Wellington?Steak? Salmon? Really, really good, gourmet food. I remember one of the desserts, it was the ice-cream sundae cart approaching me. I saw mountains of vanilla ice cream come headed towards me. Near it was a huge silver bowl filled with whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and many other condiments. “Make your own sundae” in the best of times was good, but while flying through clouds? Heavenly.
I’d like to add to Mr. McKinley’s post that my ideal flight was boarding the TWA 747 that had a winding staircase to the lounge upstairs with comfortable soft and wide chairs and private window seats. I remember reading a book up there and feeling like hot, um, bananas! That same trip, before landing, they served a snack before landing; it was the biggest, hero sandwich, I had ever seen, filled with possibly every kind of meat and cheese that existed. The enormity still bogs my mind. There were drinks or soda, snacks. How could flying NOT be part of the vacation, it was the greatest in relaxation; no one could reach you and why would anyone want to stay in touch on vacation? If you had told people back then that it would be a posdibilityin the future,they would have called security at the very least.
I don’t know when it started but slowly the airline industry disintegrated. There was no more food (gasp) you had to pay separately for everything, even bags and suitcases. People didn’t treat you like royalty anymore. After 9/11 the whole world changed and it will never be the same again. Some people refused to fly after that forever. I wasn’t thrilled with the aspect of flying but I flew many times. It became a horribly, long, painful process. I am personally grateful for the TSA agents that check and recheck but it is hard work for them. Nobody seems to appreciate what they are doing all day long or at night. Not fun for us either but still…
I will probably fly again at some point but it isn’t something that I look forward to doing. The point of relaxation does not begin at the airport but probably a day after you have reached your destination. Is it worth it? I’ve always thought it was but as time goes on I think more about it. I was so very lucky to see so many countries when I was a kid, I know I didn’t appreciate it then. It will never be the same and that is one dreadful loss. I’m glad my dad is no longer on this earth to witness travel the way it is now, he would be horrified, as those of us who remember “the good old days” are.
* a few sentences were used in the comment section for the NYT on Mr. McKinley’s wonderful article.