Airline Service, 1958 Style

Airline travel these days is quite an adventure.  You usually must arrive at the airport about two hours early.  You confirm your tickets, check your bags, and go through a security check.  After that, you proceed to the gate from which your plane is to depart and take a seat in the waiting area.  When it is time to board the plane, you pass though a flexible tube to enter the aircraft.  There, unless a first-class passenger, you are packed in with the other sardines.

How things have changed.

In April 1958 we took my mother to the Washington National Airport for flight to North Carolina.  She had been visiting with my little family ( Ann, me, Sandy Jr, and Stuart) for a few weeks and was now taking a Piedmont Airways plane bound for Wilmington, NC to see my sister Florence and family. After picking up Mom’s ticket at the Piedmont counter, we headed for the airfield boarding  area. In those days the passengers actually walked onto the field through a fence gate and climbed the movable steps that had been run up to the door of their plane.

We waited at the fence gate for a short while as the airplane taxied to its loading position. We said goodbye to Mom at the gate, and she walked onto the field and went up the steps and into the plane.  As the plane prepared to take off, the steps were taken away, the door closed, and the pilot began to taxi toward the runway.   Suddenly the aircraft stopped, the plane door opened, and the steps were brought back to the plane door.  A stewardess came down the steps, ran to the fence, and retrieved Mom’s hat box that she had left hanging on a fence post.  The stewardess then reentered the plane and the aircraft took off.

Based on your recent airport experiences, I suppose that incident is hard for you to imagine.

2 thoughts on “Airline Service, 1958 Style

  1. Not hard to imagine at all. Around that era, Sunday afternoon entertainment for the Branch Fields family often involved either going to the train station or going to the airport, formerly known as Adams Field. Never mind what it is named now. Anyway, Mom and Dad and us kids would sit on benches outside the terminal, eating peanuts or popcorn sold from a little stand, watching planes arrive and depart. At the train station we leaned over some railing to watch the trains come and go below. I didn’t like that as much because of the very loud noise made by the engines powering up and down.

    In approximately 1988 or so I visited a friend living in St. Louis. I was to fly home to Little Rock on a Monday evening. Early that morning came a snowfall that grew faster than I could believe…probably SOP for St. Louis. Anyway, my flight home was cancelled, rescheduled for the next morning. Her friends got me to the airport really early in a big vehicle of some sort for which an 8 inch snowfall was no big deal. I was early, so I watched several planes from the window of my gate. When one plane was ready to depart they had closed the door. Twice they opened it again to let people running frantically to catch their flight. Finally as that plane was backing out, a lady ran to the gate desk with a sack containing her husband’s medications. The attendant picked up a phone, spoke to somebody. The attendant gave the sack of medicines to an employee who made his way down to the tarmac as the plane pulled back toward our gate. I laughed to myself when I saw a little round door close to the cockpit open up, an arm stick out and take the sack handed up from the employee on the tarmac. The little door closed and the plane backed on out and off into the skies. It was nice that the airline was able and willing to accommodate a passenger’s need like that. When I think of it now it reminds me of a Leslie Nielson movie…one of those crazy funny ones.


  2. Uncle Sandy, I’m really enjoying All your stories. Hope you will have time to post abt your travel adventure this summer. Want to hear abt that cruise.


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