Wednesday, June 27, 2018

TV Series Pilot? Why Not?

     Want to see an executive for a television content company (Netflix, FX, AMC etc.) laugh out loud and look at you as though you're delusional? Tell him or her 1) you have no TV writing credentials, 2) you don't live in L.A., and 3) you're submitting a one-hour pilot script for a propsed television series.

     As a believer that 'we only go around once' I just finished writing a one-hour TV pilot based upon my memoir, Up, Up and Astray. In one sentence I'll pitch it as Charlie Sheen's character from Two and a Half Men working as an airline employee in the early 70's instead of a present-day jingle writer.

     My script is actually a 'dramedy' (part drama, part comedy). Although, for the most part it will be comical, there are serious parts as well. My proposed series will depict authentic airline employee and passenger activities in-flight, during layovers, and off duty. Those of you who read my memoir know that my life during the golden age of air travel was exciting enough without my having to make things up.

"Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not."
Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Annual World Airlines Christmas Party-Vegas Style!

Las Vegas Boulevard-circa late 60's

Back in the sixties, before Las Vegas became a mecca for meetings and conventions, the Strip resembled a ghost town during the first two weeks of December. It was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many gamblers had already spent their discretionary income (and more) on upcoming holiday travel and gift purchases, which left the hotels deserted (no pun intended) and desperate to fill vacant rooms.

The city's population had blossomed from 64,000 to 125,000 during the sixties (little compared to today's population of more than 680,000 and Clark County's total over 2 million). Although development was bustling, there was still much more to complete. As I mentioned in my memoir: while walking the strip, it was common to see sagebrush from the barren desert areas between casinos, blowing across Las Vegas Boulevard.

The casinos needed customers who, if nothing else, enabled them to keep their employees working and pay their electric bills (all those flashing neon signs aren't cheap!) So, who would visit this place during this lull in visitor traffic? How about folks, mostly single, who have decent discretionary income, and easy, cheap (if not free) access to Las Vegas by air. Oh, how about airline personnel-from all over the world?
Complimentary Souvenir Chips

From this idea was born the Annual World Airlines Christmas Party at the Sahara Hotel. These 'parties' began in 1957, with rooms costing only $8 per night. Upon checking in, each airline employee was given a little bag of free and highly discounted goodies. Cocktail parties were hosted by different airlines. One could start drinking Bloody Marys at an Alaska Airlines party at 9:00am. Bonanza Airlines may throw a cocktail party after lunch, and the large international carriers took turns hosting an evening cocktail gala. The Christmas party lasted 2 weeks, to accommodate crazy airline work schedules. Although most (myself included) could not last more than 2 nights of non-stop partying.

I heard from 'good sources' that well-connected airline reservation supervisors in attendance were provided with 'special favors' from hotel concierges who often called upon them to oversell last-minute seats for their high-rollers. Yes, those airline parties of the sixties actually reflected the fun times of job security, no computer monitors of employee performance, and the general positive enthusiasm about working for an airline. That enthusiasm naturally carried over to the passengers we served. I'm so pleased to have attended the 1968 party. Those times may be behind me, but the memories aren't.

Friday, March 9, 2018

When You Could "Light Up" the Sky

vintage cigarette ad
One of the put-downs posited by deniers of a Golden Age of Air Travel is the fact that smoking on board aircraft was permitted. That's true, TWA didn't even allocate no-smoking sections on its planes until 1970.

As a matter of fact, during much of the Golden Age--up to the late sixties--smoking was actually encouraged by the major air carriers. I'm not advocating smoking, but I have to admit passengers were much more friendly and pleasant on flights back then as opposed to now.

Complimentary small packs of cigarettes and matches
Before and during that era, lighting up was an acceptable--if not glorified--form of adult behavior. Like many millions who were adults prior to the 1970s, I was born and raised in a second-hand smoke environment--if not at home, at almost every public place. Whether we smoked or not, over time, our respiratory systems just seemed to become acclimated to secondary cigarette smoke all around us. During that time, non-smokers on board planes usually turned on the overhead air vents and let it go at that. Some non-smokers even offered their complimentary meal-tray packs to the smokers sitting beside them.

The point I'm making here is that, back then, generally speaking, cigarette smoke just didn't seem nearly as offensive to non-smokers as it is has increasingly become since the early seventies.

There were however, still the occasional problems. Cigar smoking, which by the way, was never tolerated on board planes. There's the story about a cigar smoker in first class of a TWA 707 who refused repeated pleas from the hostess to stop. Upon hearing about this, the captain, with the cockpit fire extinguisher in hand, approached the flagrant smoker saying. "If you don't put it out, I will." The cigar was immediately snuffed. As was eventually all smoking on flights.

A personal note here: At the age of 47, after more than 30 years smoking several packs a day of Camel regulars, I suffered a mild heart attack. I credit my smoking habit as the main cause. Upon my subsequent smoking cessation, I experienced a withdrawal evolution taking me more than five years to progress, from loving the aroma of cigarette smoke, to despising it. Now it sickens me to smell the faintest hint of cigarette smoke. When I see today's smokers puffing away inside glass cages in airports, or outside in sub-freezing temps, I'm thankful I'm no longer a slave to that strong addiction.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Writer's Outtake, Episode 3 - Donkeys, Camels, and Goats Oh My!

In the Spring of 1969, I was among 12 TWA sales reps selected to take a five-day quick tour of the Holy Land, compliments of a Chicago tour wholesaler who specializes in Holy Land tours. Other than the significant historical aspects of the the tour, I most remember several offbeat cultural experiences.

My room at the Mount Scopus Hotel on the West Bank was located on the lower level, rear. Outside my window was an open field with rocky ground cover and a smattering of olive trees. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a loud braying of he-haws. Jumping from bed and parting the drapes, I was surprised-and I must say, amused-to see a jackass, no more than 15 feet away, looking at me. He stopped braying when he saw me. We stared at one another for five seconds or so before he turned and moved away. I wonder if he got his kicks by waking hotel guests on the ground floor. I have to admit I have been awakened several times by jackasses (rowdy hotel guests) but this was the first time it was a real "jackass".

Another animal-related experience occured in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was standing in front of an open-air meat market, observing cuts of meats hung on a wall drawing flies, when something brushed against my calves. Turning around, expecting to see an unruly toddler, I was surprised to see a herd of goats passing by (something I'll never see at my neighborhood grocery store).

A moving cultural experience happened as we drove through the desert. I had an opportunity to meet, and have my picture taken, with two Bedouin boys. I wish I had more time to spend with them. I
couldn't help but think how different our lives were. Here I was being driven through the desert in an air-conditioned limousine and they spend their whole lives herding camels and goats thru the desert. I'm sure we both could have learned a lot from each other.

I often like to pick up souveniors to take home on my travels. This time I bought a Coke by the Dead Sea at Jericho. Upon my return to the U.S., a customs agent held it up and asked "Why this?"
"Turn it around," I answered.
He then noticed it had the English on one side and the Hebrew on the other. The Coke is one of the cheapest souvenirs I've ever bought, yet one of the most unique. I don't know if Hebrew Coke tastes any different, It's still sitting on my shelf unopened.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Chaplin Autograph Forty Five Years Later

Just came upon this while thumbing through some of my TWA memorabilia. In my memoir,
Up, Up and Astray, I've recounted having Charlie Chaplin and his entourage on my flight from Los Angeles to London after Mr. Chaplin was presented an honorary Academy Award. Although his movies were before my time, I was delighted to get his autograph for my mother. She adored Charlie Chaplin. The only paper I could find on board the plane was TWA stationery. I also kept the envelope with the postmark from Hounslow, UK dated April 13, 1972. While writing brings back memories, having something physical from the past almost brings it back to life. I'll never forget how excited mom was to get Chaplin's autograph.

Of all the Hollywood celebs I met while working
flights out of LAX, Mr. Chaplin was the only one
I asked for an autograph (for my mom, Ellen).

Friday, December 1, 2017

Writer's Outtake, Episode 2 - Lost Mom in Cabin D

From the movie "Airplane"
One of the strangest happenings on one of my flights occurred during a daytime trip from Boston to Los Angeles. Shortly after lunch service was completed, I was standing in first class chatting with a passenger when an anxious-looking flight attendant approached me. "Jim, there's a problem in D-cabin." As I followed her to the second-most rear cabin on the plane, she explained that an elderly lady is upset because she found another elderly lady sitting next to her son.

The lady was waiting for me at the front of D-cabin. She was trembling while pointing down several rows to an elderly lady in an aisle seat beside a man in his forties. "When I came back from the rest room I saw that lady sitting next to my son. She told me she was with her son, and she refused to move." When I escorted the complaining lady to the alleged 'false mother', something akin to an old Abbott and Costello routine ensued for the next several minutes.
The standing mother said, "She's sitting in my seat."
The seated mother replied defensively, "I'm in my own seat."
Futher declarations and pointing continued:
"She's sitting next to my son."
"He's my son."
"She's my mom."
And so on. I began to wonder if the woman standing beside me really had her son on the plane. As a last resort, I could make a 'missing mother' announcement. That could be embarrassing to the woman, especially if she, in fact, had no son on the plane.

Soon, a middle-aged man approached us from the rearmost E-cabin. "Mom, what are you doing up here? You must have passed your seat after going to the rest room." The tearful, relieved mother embraced her son for a moment before they walked back to their assigned seats. It was a touching scene, but I couldn't help but chuckle considering the two sons really didn't resemble each other. The flight continued on without further 'events.' So as you're traveling this holiday season make sure you keep an eye on the kids as well as mom!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Writer's Outtake Episode 1 - Death In Flight

Credit-Neil/Rob Melnychuk Getty Images
When DCS (Director Customer Service) John McGlade made his departure announcement on TW841 as the 747 taxied from the gate at Rome's Flumicino Airport terminal, he anticipated a routine flight to New York. John was pleased to announce the flight's anticipated on-time arrival at JFK. The flight was full, with close to 200 passengers having connections to make at JFK. But this was no routine flight. Having recently attended a TWA reunion in Tucson, I got to relive John's tale of what happened next.

Shortly after takeoff from Rome, a troubled flight attendant located John in the front of the the aircraft, asking him to immediately follow her to the rearmost cabin in economy. Simultaneously, another flight attendant was paging for a doctor or nurse to ring their call bell. By the time John rushed to the scene, several nearby doctors and nurses were attending to the passenger, a grandfather, flying back home to the U.S. with his 13-year-old granddaughter.

The man appeared to have died instantly, likely from a massive heart attack. As there were no empty seats available to relocate the deceased, John had the flight attendant place a blanket over the grandfather's head and recline his seat, until John discussed the situation with the captain.

The captain, told John he would return to Rome, as they were only about 30 minutes airborne. Obvious to the captain, nine more hours of a full flight with a corpse on board was unthinkable. John thought otherwise. He told the captain that the man's family will have enough grief as it is, without having to go through a myriad of paperwork and additional agony to bring back the body from Italy. He also remarked that more than half of the passengers would miss their connection flights at JFK. Also, if they returned to Rome, Italian authorities may keep the plane at the gate for some required investigation after removing the body. This could cause the crew to become illegal to fly, thus requiring cancellation of the flight.

"So, where do you expect to put the body?" asked the captain.
"On the floor, behind the coach-lounge bar." answered John. "The coach lounge is closed to economy passengers on international flights due to IATA (International Air Transport Assn.) rules."
"Okay." nodded the captain. "We'll continue on to New York. Do what you've gotta do."

Luckily, John was one of only two DCS's hired with a background in TWA's maintenance department. In no time at all, he proceeded to the rearmost lavatory and removed the door. It was used as a stretcher for John and some volunteers to transport the blanket-covered corpse to the coach-lounge.

For the remainder of the flight, one of the lady passengers, a nurse, sat beside the grieving and shaken granddaughter. Showing typical TWA employee compassion and proactivity, a ground hostess at JFK voluntarily accompanied the granddaughter to her final destination on her connecting flight.

I personally applaud John for his handling of a delicate and sad situation with creativity and dignity. He was an excellent example of what the DCS program was all about.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Seeing Cincinnati in a Different Light

This Loveland suburbanite seldom goes to Cincinnati's Downtown and Over-the-Rhine areas more than once a month. Practically everything I want, I can find closer in the 'burbs', including convenient free parking. Last weekend I experienced one exception though--Blink Cincinnati.

I've seen many transformations of the city in my years. Growing up in the 40's & 50's I remember going with my mom to Fountain Square on VJ-Day in August 1945 celebrating the end of WWII. As a young naive Cincinnati Police Cadet in 1959-60 I worked District 2, walking every inch from the Riverfront to Liberty Street. And by the late 60's (considering myself a sophisticated man-about-town) I worked in TWA's sales office on 4th & Walnut. But in all those years I had never seen my city transformed into a spectacular work of art.

In its first year of operation, Blink attracted more than a million visitors. That breaks a Cincinnati record for the most people for one event. Families and individuals of all ages came together to enjoy the many creative aspects of illumination, whether they be displayed upon buildings or in a parade.

Certainly, many of those who didn't attend, but heard the rave reviews, will make next year's even more popular. The following videos represent only a miniscule part of the event. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tribute to High Flying Hugh

Getty Images, Bettmann
With the passing of Hugh Hefner, the world has lost a cultural icon, the likes of which we will never see duplicated.

For airliner buffs, the above photo was shot in part of the first class lounge of a TWA Convair 880 (note the small holes at the end of the armrests for insertion of bayonet meal trays). The lounge was later replaced with three rows of first class seating. I understand Mr. Hefner was a frequent TWA flyer, especially between Los Angeles and Chicago, before receiving delivery of his own custom-made DC9 in 1969. His seat partner in the photo is Cynthia Maddox, Playboy's Assistant Cartoon Editor, who appeared on the Playboy cover five times.

Photo Credit-Just Plane History Blog

"Big Bunny" aka "Hare Force One"

In my years working out of LAX whenever I saw "Big Bunny" parked on the charter tarmac, I often fantasized what I'd experience if I were a priviliged guest on one of its flights. A unique feature of the DC9 was its retractable stairs, eliminating the need to have passenger steps brought to the plane. I read that Hef sold his plane in 1976 to a Venezuelan airline. Later, it was flown by Aeromexico on scheduled service. In 2004 it was finally retired. The parted-out jet's fuselage is now an educational tool, having been donated to the city of Cadereyta in Mexico. Hugh was larger than life and his legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bon Voyage for Pittsburgh???

Should Non-flyers have Access into Secure Airport Areas?

Courtesy: On Call International Blog

What do you think? Should non-flyers--restricted from access since 9/11 terrorist attacks--now be permitted access to secure concourses and concessions? If so, should these non-flyers have to pay a fee to be cleared through TSA Security?

Aunt Mildred would certainly be delighted to have several nephews and nieces there to meet her as she emerges from the jetway. Certainly, the concessionaires would be pleased to serve the nephews and nieces some food, or sell them apparel, books, souvenirs, etc. as they wait for their aunt's arrival. Airport parking lots would see increased revenue from their short-term parking as well. Creative airport concessionaire could offer to validate a non-flyers short term parking ticket, allowing an hour or two of complimentary parking--if the non-flyer purchases a certain dollar minimum.

Pittsburgh's airport is trying such a procedure.  Pittsburgh Post Gazette-28 AUG 2017 Airmall Article

Pittsburgh's airport lost its hub status to Philadelphia when U.S. Air merged into American Airlines, just as Cincinnati's airport lost its to Detroit when Northwest merged into Delta. Both have become what is termed 'origin-destination' airports in airline parlance. No longer must they accommodate massive numbers of connection passengers, scurrying from one gate to another, during scheduled surge periods.

I personally think hub airports should forbid non-flyer access. It's just too darn crowded during the surge periods to have non-flyers slowing down connecting passengers. Not to mention if you think TSA lines are long now, just think how long they will be with non-flyers having to clear security.

As for the origin-destination airports, I think each airport should decide for themselves. Cultural aspects may come into play. For example, folks deplaning in Jackson, Mississippi may be more patient waiting for Aunt Mildred and her greeters to clear the gate area, than those, say, in White Plains New York.