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.