My first commercial flight was a trip from La Guardia Airport, New York to Boston’s Logan Airport. It was sometime late in 1967 and I was flying to my interview at Emerson College.
There are few things I remember about that day. I remember (after it was over) thinking the interview was worthless. I remember riding the “T” from the airport into the city, transferring to an underground trolley for the final stop in Back Bay.
I also remember flying the Eastern Airlines Shuttle. If you don’t remember it, click here for one of their classic print ads.
Back then the airline business was very different. It was heavily regulated, guaranteeing airlines a profit and little real competition. It was also very special. You didn’t get on an airliner unless you were well dressed.
There was no security as we know it – no magnetometers or guards. Anyone could walk into the terminal. At Kennedy Airport there were even outdoor terraces where you could watch the planes as they came in and out. A coin operated radio was available to listen to the tower.
The Eastern Shuttle was something very different. If you walked up and paid your fare, you were guaranteed a seat. If the plane was full, they’d just roll out another one and put you on board.
That first flight¹, I flew on a ‘student fare,’ which has half off. That also put me at the back of the line as far as boarding was concerned. As it turned out, the flight was full.
True to its word, Eastern brought out another plane. Though the one I missed was a jet, the ‘second section,’ as they called it, was a Lockheed Electra – a four engine turboprop.
This is a long time ago, nearly forty years, but I do have some vivid memories.
There were only 3 or 4 of us on this plane. I remember looking down as we flew over the Connecticut countryside thinking how slow we were going! I expected more. I stared out the window at those engines with their spinning propellers.
I remember very little about the interior of the plane, except there was a step about halfway down the cabin. It seemed strange at the time, and does today, that the cabin’s floor was not all at one level.
Oops – I almost forgot why I was writing this. It’s in Wednesday’s New York Times. The Shuttle, as I knew it, is no more.
Generations of East Coast travelers have been comforted by a reliable guarantee that dangled at the other end of a harried cab ride: there would always be enough seats on the hourly shuttles connecting New York to Boston and Washington, even if another plane had to be rolled out to accommodate them.
Since the 1960’s, that promise had been made by a series of airlines operating the Northeast shuttles, from Eastern to Trump to USAir to Pan Am to Delta. But now, like china coffee cups, it has become part of airline history.
Starting yesterday, Delta Air Lines, the last airline to offer the promise, is flying just one shuttle an hour from La Guardia Airport to Boston and Washington and vice versa, no matter how many people show up and no matter how urgent their need to get to the nation’s capital or its capital of capitalism. The era of the “extra section,” as Delta called the jetliners that would be rolled out to accommodate overflow crowds, has ended.
Of course Eastern Airlines is gone. USAir, which runs what was the Eastern Shuttle stopped this policy a while ago. Delta, which runs what was Pan Am’s route, doesn’t have much choice. They’re all bleeding money.
The days of dressing up to fly are long gone. And now, the era of walking up to the counter and knowing there would be a seat for you is also gone.
I think I paid $16 each way back in 1967. A walk up tomorrow for Delta Shuttle would be $488 round trip. I wonder how much longer that will last? How much longer will it be before Delta, USAir or United disappear?
¹ – I had flown in a 2 seater from Flushing Airport before this much more sophisticated trip.