My father was an engineer with the General Electric Company. He worked in several places, including Erie, Pennsylvania and Lynn, Massachusetts, and maybe some others I don't know because that was before I was born. Later in life he worked at Valley Forge and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. But for most of my childhood he was at company headquarters in Schenectady, New York. He had a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, and a master's in physics, and I almost never knew what he did in his job. The genealogist in me regrets that I was so incurious, but he couldn't have told me anyway, as much of his work was classified. Once, many years later, when were visiting the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (where in retirement he worked as a docent), he pointed to a photo in an exhibit on military airplanes and casually said, "That was one of my projects."
Dad didn't spend a lot of time on the road, but he did have "business trips" that took him around the country. Again, I never knew what for—nor, as a child, was I aware of much besides the souvenirs he'd bring back with him. It's hard to believe that he used to fly in prop planes, though I do remember him expressing his regret that the Schenectady Airport consigned itself to being a backwater of the Albany Airport when it chose not to make the runways long enough to accommodate jets.
By 1960, however, he was enjoying jet travel between here and California. And I mean enjoying. General Electric was not the kind of company to send engineers First Class, or even Business Class if they had had it back then. But in those golden days of flying, Coach was a little different. Here's what he wrote in his diary about one particular trip.
September 25, 1960
This morning I caught Eastern Airlines' 8:40 a.m. flight along with Renato Bobone from Albany to New York City and thence by Trans World Airlines' Boeing 707 jet to Los Angeles and a week in that city. The flight, as is often the case in a jet, was rather uneventful. We left New York at 11 a.m. with overcast weather and it was not long after we were on our way that dinner began. It was interesting to note than TWA left a copy of Newsweek and Life on the table between each pair of seats for passengers’ reading. A good idea.
Dinner started off with the usual two drinks. Then a crabmeat cocktail with two glasses of white wine followed by dinner with two glasses of red wine or champagne.
Dinner was roast beef that I had trouble identifying. I think it was roast tenderloin. Anyway it was very good. For dessert I ignored the calorific foods and had a bunch of grapes. And coffee.
Not too long after this repast, we began flying over the mountains and I sat in the lounge to get some pictures. I may have some fair ones. The flight took us over the southern edge of the Grand Canyon, but haze may have prevented my pictures from being their best. The desert was very interesting to watch. It looks desolate, yet must contain much life. I would like to be able to see it first hand and leisurely sometime.
We landed in Los Angeles about 12:20 Pacific Standard Time and we checked into the Hyatt House. We rested a bit and then Renato and I took advantage of the Hyatt House swimming pool and the sunny day. I also spent some time staring at the TV at the San Francisco - New York professional football game. The Giants won 21-19.
(I confess my near-total ignorance of professional sports when I reveal that I laughed when I read that last line, since I assumed a San Francisco vs. New York game meant that somehow the Giants were playing the Giants.)
That really was the golden age of coach-class flying, with jet-speed travel, lots of room, and sumptious meals. Not to mention at least six free drinks. Plus, if his times were correct, I make the flight time from New York to Los Angeles at four and a half hours, at least an hour quicker than is standard today.
And yet it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. Here's what he wrote about the return flight.
I got on the plane about 10:00 and by after 10:30 the plane had not left. Someone reported they were waiting for someone on a connecting flight, but the hostess said she didn't believe that was the real reason. Eventually the agent came aboard and announced over the public address system, "All passengers please deplane immediately. We have a bomb scare." We all left right away with no excitement or panic. We were locked in the waiting room while they removed the baggage and searched the plane. They served jus coffee and pastry while we waited.
Eventually we were all interviewed by the FBI—the interview consisting of questions as to name, address, reason for trip, were we involved in a court action, had we reeived threats, might someone be playing a practical joke un us? Then we identified our luggage, stood by while it was searched, and thence back to the plane. We took off three hourse late. The flight back was really uneventful, although as usual I got only about 2 hours' sleep.
We came to New York to find rather couldy skies and a moderate delay before we could land. Since I had an 11 a.m. flight out of La Guardia [having landed at Idlewild], I was not anxious to see much in the way of delays. We finally got off the plane at 10:15 but I did not get my bag until 10:30. The cab driver said it was a 20 minute trip to La Guardia and he made it in 20 minutes. I dashed to the Eastern Airlines counter and thence to the gate to find them just about to pull the stairs away from the plane. I got aboard—but I was the last one to make it.