Unit Terminal Building, JFK. That’s what the British Airways terminal was known as, in the building stages. I believe it was Terminal 5, initially, but as other terminals were constructed, it became Terminal 7.

Personally, I wouldn’t have called it a thing of beauty. It was a great solid block of concrete, inside as well as out. At the time, apparently, bare concrete was the in thing.

After all the excitement and promises of a better work environment, the time came for the actual move.

As a lowly peon, I was charged only with ensuring I collected up all my own “stuff”, and on the day in question, reported to the new terminal. For our supervisors it must have been HELL.

In part, this was because the terminal was only half finished, and many compromises had to be found. How do you set up shop in an empty shell?

It was a bit like moving into a mausoleum.

(That’s Mr Burrage. He was our manager and a very nice man.)

I found a quote which says it all:

“Heavy-handed battered concrete over heavy-handed battered glass. An awkward attempt at a tour de force.”

source ukn

Later I composed an amateur poem. Some excerpts offer a sample of the experience:

When we moved,
They promised our troubles would end.
We didn't realize they meant
By driving us round the bend.
The day we moved,
We couldn't find
So many things
We'd left behind.
Nor did we know our way around
Could not even direct you
To Lost and Found.

We moved at the end of June, right before the July 4th weekend.

It was a challenge to sort everything out, where to put things, and how to find our own way around, never mind direct anyone else. Mostly, we struggled to communicate with only a few telephones working. We really didn’t need any additional problems to confront us.

The second day, to make us cry
Our cabin crew refused to fly....

But on the busiest weekend of Summer, our cabin crew went on strike and all our flights were cancelled. Except the Bermuda shuttle, which we operated with a crew that was “trapped” locally. Till they returned to base, they were obliged to work, so they went back and forth, none too pleased!

We were in the process of becoming computerized, but at the time our Reservations was an entirely different department. Not everyone was even trained to check in online. It would be years before we were allowed to learn any reservations functions. And it wasn’t as if you could pop in next door and ask for help. Reservations was located downtown New York. So we had to do it by phone, – but half the new phones weren’t hooked up.

So how were we to re-book anyone? It was kind of a moot point anyway, actually, because everyone else’s flights were booked solid. We mostly stood around looking and feeling a bit spare.

I seem to have blocked out most of this horrible memory, but I do remember being at the ticket counter surrounded by irate passengers including a Mr Namdev who was desperate to get home to India. On a space-available ticket!

Mr Namdev came back every hour or so, for about three days straight, pleading with us. He had several small children and he kept picking them up, one at a time, to show us, “see my little boy, see my little girl. We must go back to Bombay…” How desperately we wanted them to go!

I worked with the same colleague for the duration of this ordeal, and by the end of the third night we couldn’t handle it anymore, so when Mr Namdev was sighted, we would duck down behind a wall. One time we did it simultaneously and catching each other’s eye, we fell about laughing.

We eventually had days off , and when we returned, flights had resumed and the Namdev family had presumably got on their way to Bombay. Perhaps in the end, they bought full fare tickets.

It was a rather inauspicious beginning .

4 thoughts on “UTB JFK

  1. I did a lot of ducking, over the years. You didn’t always want the passenger to hear what you were saying to the flight controller or the manager or security for that matter. Like “come and rescue me!” I never needed rescuing in that sense, but one of the girls was held up at knife point once and he cut a button from her coat. She was only wearing the coat because the terminal was so badly heated!

  2. It sounds like it was a nightmare to go through and I’m sure you and your co-workers handled it as best you could.

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