From The Chairman:
for VAHS newsletter Winter 2021-2022
When I was flying for the big airline I always made a point, when duties permitted, of greeting my passengers as they boarded and thanking them as they disembarked at our destination. This to me was not only basic courtesy but also essential as I figured the passengers were paying my mortgage and I wanted to encourage their continued patronage. The vast majority of the passengers were delightful to engage with, a few not so much, and I enjoyed the interaction. One fairly common thread that ran through some passenger comments was “this was such a long flight!” accompanied either by an exasperated sigh or an expression of having just crossed on foot Death Valley and the Mojave desert we had just flown over on our descent into Los Angeles. This comment made me chuckle as five hours before this we had left behind a very cold, very windy, very dark and heavily snow covered Hartford/ Windsor Locks airport and were now basking in the 80 degree sunshine and light breezes of Southern California. It’s not called the Golden State for nothing.
I have been fortunate in my career to have worked a wide variety of airplanes that spanned over 80 years of aviation technology. When I combine my first hand operational experience of flying both the DC-3 and modern jets across the United States with my study of airline and airplane history I think I have a good perspective on what “such a long flight!” really is.
I went to my notes and pulled out this bit of information on New York to LA/ San Francisco service to put some perspective on how far U.S. air travel has progressed.
Equipment Enroute Time Fare
1927: Boeing 80 15 stops 32.5 hours $404 ($6500 2020 dollars)
1937: DC-3 3 stops 15.5 hours $160
1950: DC-6 2-3 stops 9.5 hours $158
1967: B-707 0 stops 5 hours $145
1976: B-747 0 stops 5 hours $175 ($875 2020 dollars)
As an added bit of perspective in 1936 San Francisco to Honolulu on PAA cost $360 or $6800 2020 dollars and took 14 hours. And for 13 of those hours the view was the same! On the other side of the world when KLM introduced the Douglas DC-2 on their much more picturesque Amsterdam – Batavia route the transit time was shortened from 12 to 5 ½ days.
Another way to look at the progress is to compare the American Airlines transcontinental service begun in 1934 using 190 mph Curtiss Condor sleeper planes of 12 passenger capacity to the 100 passenger 600 mph B-707 25 years later. The AAL Condor made the LAX to CLE run in a total elapsed time of 24 hours before transferring to a UAL flight to New York then back onto AAL to Boston adding another 5 hours to the trip. Imagine, 29 hours at something less than 10,000 feet, in the weather and with no air conditioning in summer and marginal heat in the winter. In 1946 New York to Chicago in a DC-4 was 4 hours (still unpressurized) and it was not until 1953 when American Airlines introduced the Wright Aeronautical Division R3350-TC powered pressurized Douglas DC-7 that the first non-stop transcontinental routes could be flown in the amazing time of 8 hours, 12 hours less than 1945. In 1959 American placed the Boeing-707-23 into New York – San Francisco service and cut an additional 90 minutes from the west bound and 3 hours from the east bound DC-7 times on this busy route. One important note, though I am quite partial to AAL, the foregoing is not to single out this airline, other airlines and airframe and engine manufacturers made equal strides on various routes using various equipment. The entire airline industry in the United States is a marvel and one statistic, I think, says it all: in 2019 the U.S. airlines carried 925 million passengers, three times the U.S. population.
I guess it is all in the passenger’s perspective that can turn a 5 hour trip across the U.S. into “such a long flight”, not appreciating what a safe, reliable and efficient way to travel modern airlines provide. A study of history will provide that perspective and some passengers understood and they were easy to single out. It was always a pleasure to meet that knowledgeable passenger who, on leaving the airplane, would smile and say to me “Thanks, what a wonderful flight”. That made my day.