Six miles above the Atlantic, aboard this smooth-riding Boeing 777 carrying John and me from New York to London in just over six hours, I’m remembering our first flight to Europe . . .
It was 1949 when we spotted an ad for inexpensive air travel overseas: Only 24 hours from New York to Paris! “All the way across the ocean in only a day?” we said to each other, marveling. Two years earlier we’d crossed the usual way, six days by ship.
At La Guardia Airport we boarded a boxy-looking two-propeller World War II cargo plane with close-packed rows of seats recently added. Every one of them was occupied as the big craft lumbered down the runway. It seemed like miles before it gathered enough speed to lurch into the air.
It was a bumpy flight, but we expected that: “bumpy” and “flight” were synonyms. Some three hours after take-off the single attendant (male) passed around bologna sandwiches and unchilled apricot juice.
A couple of hours after that, came the first refueling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. I’d wondered what the paper bags stuffed in a canvas sack on the seatback in front of us were for. I found out as we made our jerking, pitching, stomach-churning descent. The landing strip was pitch dark, but it was wonderful to get out and feel solid ground under our feet. It was hard to get back in that plane!
Somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, a second meal was served. More bologna sandwiches. More warm apricot juice. Through the entire trip those were the only items on the menu and I’ve never touched either of those innocent foods again.
The second refueling stop was Shannon Airport in Ireland. The descent was as traumatic and stomach-emptying as the first. Many passengers felt too queasy to take the recommended walk, but John and I ran to the end of the tarmac to say we’d set foot on Irish soil.
The last leg was Shannon to Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Same wobbling and swerving, same sudden drops, same gastric result on this last descent. But… we were in Paris, and only yesterday we’d been in New York! It had happened at unsettling speed and the world had suddenly shrunk.
I was jolted from my reminiscences as the stewardess passed around heated towels before the breakfast service. Today’s trip lasts a quarter the time and is infinitely smoother, but so quickly do we adjust to marvels, that this now seems slow. Four separate times in the 1980s and ‘90s (but those are other stories!) John and I crossed the ocean on the Concorde in three and a half hours. “Six whole hours to get to Europe?” I said to John…