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More Thoughts on Flying, Past and Present

Web posted on May 15, 2017

A Curmudgeon's View

By Les Enekes

Parts of this were going to be my original column on some of my more interesting flying experiences. The woes of the airline industry are not going away. Reports in the media about airlines and airline employees on both sides of the border behaving badly seem to have become almost daily occurrences. The United States House of Representatives recently held hearings about the treatment of passengers. Executives from the largest U.S. carriers were invited to testify. Let's hope that the message gets through to the executives that they have to do much better or there will be new regulations.

Have you noticed that more and more airlines are referring to their passengers as "guests" rather than passengers? Just to put that into perspective, people who are serving time in our prisons are sometimes referred to as Guests of Her Majesty. It does make you wonder who is getting better treatment.

I think I missed out on what I consider the golden age of airline flying by about a decade. I feel that there was a certain romance about flying in propeller driven airliners. I think flying was a lot more civilized back then, even if you were flying in economy class. I admit that those aircraft were slow and unreliable by today's standards. There is also the chance that I might have hated the experience. I guess the closest comparison would be riding on a train pulled by a steam locomotive. Yes, there is a railroad column in the works.

Living fairly close to a rail line I started out being fascinated by trains. However, at some point I started looking up and saw airliners and other aircraft flying by. They seemed to be more interesting than the nearby trains and I was hooked. I became interested in all aspects of aviation, but I did not want to work in the aviation industry. With all that's happened to the airline and aviation industry over the years, I think I made a very wise decision.

As a kid in London, I managed to talk my parents into taking me to see the RCAF Golden Hawks. Years later I saw the Golden Centenaires in 1967. Most kids who see military aerobatic teams want to join the military. I had no desire to join the military or to be a pilot, but I enjoyed going to airshows and taking pictures of aircraft. I also realized that I really did not like being in the audience. I still don't like being in large crowds.

Several years later I jumped at the chance to get involved with the original London International Air Show as a member of the organizing committee (that is a very long story for a different time). I remained with the show long after moving to Guelph until the show ceased operation in 1997. I was also a volunteer for the Fort Worth, Texas airshow for several years (another long story for another time). Over the years I was able to travel to many of major airshows on the continent and have seen close to three hundred flying displays.

My photography and being in the airshow industry gave me numerous opportunities to fly in many interesting aircraft and some unique photo opportunities. I also got to meet some very interesting people.

But first there was one airliner experience that stands out. In 1976 I drove down to Port Clinton, Ohio (not far from Sandusky and Cedar Point) to fly on the last scheduled Ford Tri-Motor service. In those days Island Airlines (they were bought out in the 90s) billed itself as the world's shortest airline. The flight from Port Clinton to Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island was only 11 miles. I believe that there are a couple of flights operating today that are shorter. They flew the route like a shuttle service for the residents who needed to commute to the mainland. They it did attract the occasional aviation enthusiast and even a fair number of tourists in the summer. They were not all that surprised when I didn't want to stay on the island and come back on the return flight. I was the only non resident on the flight. There were no advanced reservations, no seat selection, and they only took cash. There were no baggage handlers (you loaded your own), or flight attendants. If the flight was more than half full everyone and everything had to be weighed so the plane would not be overloaded. If it was, the last passengers to arrive and their luggage had to wait for the next flight. They didn't even have any security checks. The seats on board were made of wicker, and quite possibly more comfortable than some of the seats used today. I honestly don't remember what type of seat belts they had. Now that I think about it, this airline was decades ahead of it's time. Let's face it; they were the ultimate no frills airline, long before anyone knew what that meant. As I remember, I was the second to board because in those days the first to board got to sit in the cockpit next to the pilot. There wasn't even door on the cockpit. This could never happen today. There was little or no sound insulation as it was a very noisy flight. It would have been rather unpleasant if you had to sit on board for any length of time. Some things haven't changed much over the years.

Unfortunately less than a year later on July 1st 1977 the plane went off the runway while landing at Put-In-Bay. No one was injured but the plane was damaged beyond repair by some accounts. There are conflicting reports about the current status of the aircraft ranging from being completely restored and currently flying somewhere in Texas to parts being stored somewhere in Michigan waiting to be restored. One would think that information on this aircraft and Island Airlines would be easy to find on line. Contrary to myth, every bit of information in the known (and perhaps the unknown) universe is not available at the click of a mouse. Currently there is a ferry service to the island, and there are flights only when the lake is frozen over. There is also an aviation museum at the Port Clinton airport and they have a Tri-Motor under restoration.

Our second largest airline recently announced that they will be starting a new ultra low fare airline with high density seating before the end of the year. (There aren't enough Ford Tri-Motor wicker chairs out there to make this happen.) It looks like they are trying to do away with the ultra low cost carriers that have started up and are planning to start. It will be interesting to see how our so called national airline responds. Several European and American air carriers use the ultra low cost model and they seem to be relatively successful, but don't have the best of reputations. The low fares may seem bargain at first but by the time you add in paying for everything from seat selection to carry on luggage, it may not be bargain you think it is, not to mention the lack of comfort. It's bad enough having to put up with the shenanigans of the legacy airlines. When you add in all the new and evolving security measures plus the time needed to go through the whole airport process, it can be a very long and tiring experience under the best of circumstances. On many shorter routes it might be faster to drive than to take the plane. For those of us without access to a private jet, the thought of flying is becoming less appealing with every news report and new regulation.

All sorts of companies want us to bundle everything from cable packages to meals and everything in between, because they claim it is supposed to save us a few dollars. Airlines on the other hand are unbundling everything and are saying that it will save us few dollars. The marketing types are feeding us all this contradictory information and they actually expect us to believe it. Wake up and smell the you know what, and I am not talking about coffee. Ever get the feeling that "they" know what's best for us and we don't?

It would be nice to get what we want and not what "they" tell us we want.

You really don't have to get on a plane to visit London, Cornwall, Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Sparta, Delhi, Melbourne or Brisbane. You can travel the world and never leave the province. Just look at a map of Ontario and enjoy your staycation by helping to celebrate Canada's 150th.

Most of my airline flights were routine and uneventful. There was always a reasonable amount of comfort and service. Many of those airlines are no longer with us. Those that have survived are much larger, greedier and very impersonal. Service and comfort were the first casualties of all the airline mergers. I have a feeling that if we didn't have all the excessive fees and taxes, we would not need the low cost carriers.

We all have expectations about what an airline should be offering as a basic standard. For shorter flights (under 90 minutes) most people are willing to give up some amenities. For longer and overseas flights the expectations are higher. If you are going to an all inclusive resort everything on your flight should be included in the price.

I have tried to fly in as many different types of airliners as possible, with the Boeing 757 being my current favourite. It's not too big and not too small, and I like the way it looks. I am partial to anything built by Boeing, and prefer to fly on narrow body aircraft over any of the wide bodies. You will never get me on an A380. A flight on the Concorde would have been nice. At the other end of the scale, I would have loved to have flown on a Super Constellation or a DC-7. My current bucket list of aircraft to fly on is rather short. I would love to fly on a DC-3, a Gulfstream 5 biz jet, and John Travolta's Boeing 707. In my books he is a pilot first, aviation enthusiast and memorabilia collector second, and does some acting from time to time to feed his aviation habit. I would probably settle for a tour of the plane. I figure I have decent chance at one, and a long shot on the other two. There are a few other aircraft I would love to get a chance to fly on, but I have to be somewhat realistic. I just don't see an invitation to fly on Air Force One coming my way.

Wow, this column is turning out to be much longer than expected, and I am going to have to leave the good stuff for a future column. The rest of my flying experiences could best be described as flying the really friendly skies.

If you have some free time on Wednesday the 17th please support the athletes of the Upper Grand DSB and the Wellington Catholic DSB Special Olympics Track and Field Meet at St. James Sports Fields on Grange Road. Opening Ceremonies are at 10:00. Parking is available at the Victoria and Grange Plaza. Don't park on Grange. I believe the rain date is on Thursday.


Les Enekes can be reached directly by owl. For those not owl equipped, he can be reached at news@thefountainpen.com

The views of columnists in The Fountain Pen do not necessarily represent the views of the principals of the publication.


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