Friday, December 23, 2016

A New Life for TWA's JFK Flight Center

Photo Courtesy of New York State's official Website
There's a possibility-just a possibility at this time that the TWA DCS (Director of Customer Service) annual reunion for 2018 will be held at the new TWA Flight Center Hotel at Kennedy Airport.  This encouraging news broke during our recent reunion in San Antonio.  Groundbreaking just started on the new hotel and it's encouraging to see they are preserving the original architecture, not just demolishing and replacing it with something new.  The original flight center opened in 1962, famed architect Eero Saarinen's futuristic design was state of the art back then and now over 50 years later it will come back to life and be a center point of JFK once again.
Photos Courtesy of Curbed New York
 Fond memories come to mind as I browsed through photos of the abandonded center.

Back in November of 1967 I attended a two-week TWA sales rep training program in a JFK airport area hotel.  One of my classmates, Mark, and I decided not to spend our weekend break at our respective homes in Los Angeles and Cincinnati.  Instead, on Friday after class we left the hotel for TWA's terminal, vowing to take the next domestic flight out no matter where it went (excepting our hometowns).  Yes we were willing to spend the weekend in Cleveland or Pittsburgh if the next departure was to one of those destinations.

As we rushed from the hotel courtesy car into the TWA terminal the mounting suspense was almost unbearable.  Approaching the front information desk, we looked up at the large Solari board
 Much to our delight, there, at the top was displayed FLIGHT 57 LAS VEGAS.  Neither Mark nor I had ever been to Las Vegas. In my upcoming memoir you can read how incidents occuring on our flight enabled us to befriend a high-roller who arranged for us complimentary front-row-center seats and drinks for the late show in the Desert Inn's Crystal Room.

Most passengers and visitors that toured the center were unaware that there was a special private VIP lounge behind the ticket counter which stocked complimentary booze and snacks.  Jackie Onassis was the last VIP I remember seeing there.

I'll also never forget the long delays at JFK during an air traffic controller slowdown.  We were 69 in line for takeoff, but fortunately I was sitting in first class as our Boeing 707 crept along the taxiways for two hours and forty minutes prior to takeoff.  During that time, we had drinks and dinner while taking in a movie.  In 1970 it was from JFK that I worked my first flight-to Los Angeles--as a DCS.  That was the start of an exciting four years working aboard TWA's domestic and international wide-body jets.  I can't wait until the day when I can walk those halls at the JFK flight center again, but this time it will be as a guest not an employee.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Memories of London Heathrow Layovers

Long Walkway Terminal 3 Heathrow
Upon returning from several days of hiking parts of the Cotswold Way with my wife Stacey, I thought it best to spend our last evening at a Heathrow area hotel. Leaving directly from Selsley would necessitate leaving around 3:00am, riding via train and coach, to check in on time for our 9:20am departure; besides, I wanted to see what the Skyline Hotel (now named the Skyline Sheraton) looked like, some 45 years later. Yes, I was among the first guests to stay there after it opened in 1971. The rest of the crew stayed at hotels in Kensington, but us DCSs had an earlier check-in, so we stayed at the Skyline. Some time ago the hotel was downgraded from its original five-star, to a four-star rating. The exterior basically remains the same. Inside, there’s now a much longer front desk at the reception area. Diamond Lil's Saloon is now a sports bar, however the rustic wood entry remains, a leftover from the former Yukon motif. The lounge at the indoor pool area, where I consumed many drinks while “chatting it up” with Nino the barman, other DCSs and some rather intriguing folks, has changed little. 

Skyline Hotel Bar 1971
No longer are there sunken bar stools (in the water) on one half of the circular bar. Nor are there any more live birds singing from the trees under the glass dome. The roving steel band is also a thing of the past.  Needless to say, there are no longer more than a hundred Pan Am “stewardesses” laying over there each evening—as were in the good ole days.
Stacey and I arrived at an empty bar, shortly after seven pm. The barman (who took our picture) told us he had a full bar earlier, before the patrons left for a group dinner. It was a rather haunting, but rewarding feeling, just sitting there with my wife—and my memories—with no other patrons or guests around. 

 Skyline 45 years later

The next morning, our Delta flight departed from Terminal Three’s gate F21. How very coincidental! Back when I worked TW761 to LAX, it usually departed from nearby gate 22. Now, as then, that end of the “F” concourse continues to be the longest hike from the main Terminal Three departure lounge. The two long walkways, with a moving sidewalk on one side, haven't changed one iota (see photo above). Now, passengers have rollers on their carry-on bags. Back in the early seventies, such a common-sense modification to luggage was mostly non-existent. Being too macho to rent a baggage trolley, I lugged my bag and flight kit all the way. Maybe that’s why I occasionally get spinal injections years later for pinched and slipped vertebrae.

My soon-to-be-finished memoir recalls numerous ‘eventful’ layovers at LHR, with many scenes taking place in the Skyline, and later at the Sheraton, further down Bath Road.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rules Don't Apply (Jim's Version)

Me and some female passengers in a L-1011 Coach Lounge-Circa 1973

My wife and I recently saw Warren Beatty's new movie about Howard Hughes "Rules Don't Apply"  We really enjoyed the movie and I loved the scenes of old Hollywood.  It brought back a lot of memories of my time at TWA especially when I was based in Los Angeles.  I never personally met Howard Hughes. I started at TWA in 1964 and he had sold his interest in the company by 1961.  Actually, very few people ever met Howard including his closest business manager Robert Maheu (played by Alec Baldwin in the movie).  I had the real Robert Maheu's wife Yvette on a flight one time from New York to Paris.  I was taking a break in the first class lounge and I overhead a top executive with U.S. Steel ask her if her husband had ever met Howard.  You could have heard a pin drop, the air up there got so dense I thought the whole damn plane was going down. (Needless to say she didn't answer, this was a sore subject).  Howard's eccentric ways and legacy lived on in TWA for years.  A good friend of mine was a gate agent at San Francisco and one day Howard comes in with a couple buddies and just takes a Convair 880 to go fishing in Alaska, leaving him to have to explain to some 75 passengers why their flight had just been canceled. That would be like Richard Branson coming into SFO today and taking an Airbus A320. (Don't think that's ever gonna happen).

But enought about Howard. Watching the movie I couldn't help but think the old glory days of aviation are long gone, and how lucky I was to have experienced them first hand. This was a time before TSA, the internet, and cell phones live recording your every move.  Back then we were hand writing boarding passes, seats had plenty of legroom with an actual lounge in coach, and passengers were given a complimentary mini pack of cigarettes on their meal trays. Above you will see me with some lady passengers in a L-1011 coach lounge.  This was a typical day at the office for me.  The things we got away with would never fly today.  Between the boozing, bribery, and boinking I guess you could have called us the "Pirates of the Prime Meridian".  Looking back the "Rules Didn't Apply" even for a regular guy like me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Storyteller in Me

So what possesses a man in his 70's to write a memoir?  Shouldn't I be enjoying my retirement fishing or relaxing out on the golf course.  Well I am enjoying my retirement by writing.  We all have a story to tell but not all of us are storytellers.  I have always enjoyed the thrill of a good story.  Making someone laugh or seeing the surprise in their face has always fascinated me.  I have even made a side business out of storytelling.  I put on travel presentations of my trips to retirement communities, not only does it put a little fun money in my pocket it helps keep my mind active and up to date on technology.  I believe retirement is about staying engaged in the things you love not sitting around waiting on the grim reaper.  So father time will have to wait a little longer, I still have a story to tell!

Me at a recent presentation on Florence, Italy
My loyal audience at the Lodge, I call them my cult following

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lunken Airport-Where it all Started

Lunken Airport will always have a special place in my heart.  It was there in 1947 that my feet left the ground for the first time and transported me into a world of imagination.  My mom and I took a flight on a DC-3 from Lunken (in Cincinnati, OH) to Toledo, OH.  The flight was over 2hrs long with a stop in Dayton, OH.  If you're not familiar with Ohio geography you can almost drive from Cincinnati to Toledo in just over 2hrs now, but back then this was considered first class travel!

Lunken is no longer the major airport in Cincinnati so I don't find myself there often.  But I recently had the opportunity to visit the Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society Museum at Lunken and it brought back a flood of memories of the good ole days.  I was honored to donate a book (on behalf of my friend Jon Proctor), on the History of TWA.  Jon was a friend I worked with at TWA and he is an historian and authority on all things TWA.  His book will be a great addition to the collection of aviation history they have at the musem.