1954/31st July 2023

A very early start yesterday ensured that we were home well before lunch, which meant there was time to accomplish the morning’s chores.  

The downside of this was that by the time I had cleared the decks, so to speak, my brain had put its feet up for the day.

“Thinking? You must be joking. There will be no more of that today!”  


Fine. I thought I’d recline on my bed with the chapter I’d abandoned yesterday in favour of an early night.  

And of course I never got there because someone needed feeding, or something had to be mopped up etc, etc, etc


We had launched ourselves into a heavy mist which provided interesting images.


I can never resist a photograph here.


It’s extraordinary that in my 20’s, I could take a transatlantic weekend trip returning in time to clock-in for my regular eight-hour shift. Straight off the flight.

Admittedly, I may not have been totally up-to-par on those occasions and I didn’t do it often as it was seriously tempting fate, considering the dim view our employer took of us being late for work.  


So many things could go wrong with your plan. A flight that had been only half full could suddenly be oversold because of a cancellation somewhere.

It could be delayed.

It could itself be cancelled.


You might be issued a seat and find yourself airborne in record time, only to arrive at destination where the weather had collapsed, so you’d be in a holding pattern.

Around and around, you’d go, getting later by the minute and then, oh dear.

The flight could be diverted.  

Diversions were seriously bad news.


On a “space-available” ticket, whatever problems you encountered were yours alone to sort out.

You were supposed to hang back, extracting information where you could find it but on no account were you to interrupt staff members who were dealing with the irate mob.


Your worthless ticket entitled you to stand by for whatever seat might eventually become available.

In the good old days, if you had a good story, or an acquaintance on the crew, you might be granted a seat on the flight deck.


Requesting a “jump seat” in the event no other accommodation became available could backfire on you.

Once when I was positioning to London for a training course, I had a ticket with confirmed Business class entitlement.

All of which was meaningless because the flights were oversold.


If you were on company business, it was annoying to be offloaded. You could shrug your shoulders and not worry about showing up late for the training course.

Fine, if it was something you couldn’t care less about, but courses in London tended to be important and being late just messed you up.


So you’d ask one of the Operations staff to put in a word with the skipper.

If you were granted a jump seat it was designated for you specifically.

When it came down to processing on-loads from the standby list, your name was annotated “jump seat” and you were by-passed.


Sitting in the cockpit for take-off and landing was always a bit of a buzz for me, but once safely airborne you realise that you are basically an encumbrance.

On the old 747 there was a space behind the flight deck, next to a door. That’s where I sat shivering on the hard floor all night.


It was much preferable to an awful economy-class middle seat.

Having “nominated” myself for the jump seat, my entitled seat went to someone with lesser priority.

The way it worked out, that person ended up sitting in First class.


Them’s the breaks! I didn’t care.

Those last moments before a flight closes and you bite your fingernails waiting for the outcome?

Seriously nerve wracking.

Whatever crappy seat you got you were happy with. Most of us were.


My pal Tim and I stood by in Bangkok once for an Air France flight.

Getting back from the Far East was always dodgy and if you were “other airline” staff as we were, your priority is very low.

You feel a long way from home in those moments. And there was still the transatlantic flight to find.


Once you were on-loaded, you had to rush through Immigration and hope to get to the gate before the door closed.

Tim and I got boarding cards and as we went through to the gate he wrinkled his nose at the economy class seats. He decided this could be improved upon.

Cringing, I tried to dissociate, fearing he would negotiate our way right off the flight.


As I recall, we travelled in the back of the bus on that occasion but Tim had a gift for improving things.

The only time he was offloaded from a flight, having already been seated on the aircraft, was with me. My bad karma, I expect.

It happened to people often enough. You slunk off as if you were some sort of lowly criminal.


These days with high-endurance aircraft, many flights operate direct between continents. Boring!

In our day, there was always at least one transit stop, where there was the possibility of being dumped .

If you were responsible you arranged any visas that might be necessary.


One time, we were a party of four trying to get back from Singapore, notoriously difficult to manage.

We went grovelling to the representative who seemed in charge. He would have had to deal with stranded staff passengers every night.

Poor man. Delivering the bad news was never fun.


In due course, he called us forward with an offer. We could take it or not but our chances of leaving Singapore in the near future were about nil.

Those 747’s configured as they were, had 4 seats at a centre doorway, 2 on either side.

28AB/JK. Etched in my brain.


Doorway, – legroom! Yay.

Soon it came to everyone’s attention that these seats were actually so bad, even our illustrious airline would not sell them.

We had to offload paying passengers rather than seat them there.


But we were thrilled to spend that very long night having our feet stepped on by people in the endless queue for the toilets and enduring the wail of infants in the bulkhead row behind.

Just to be travelling in the right direction was all that mattered.

The flight stopped in Kuwait but we figured we were safe as we had no visas. Irresponsibility sometimes paid!

The joys of staff travel!

Even when we weren’t travelling ourselves, staff travel could be a monumental pain.

Because some of the worst passengers to deal with were staff, in part because they were stressed out.

Also because they often thought they knew it all and wanted to tell you what you ought to be doing.

And because they did take us away from paying passengers.


The summer of 1970, we no sooner moved in to the new mausoleum of a terminal, than there was a strike.

In those days, there was always a strike.

In consequence, we had a serious back load of passengers and saw the same stranded staff night after night.

This included a family from New Delhi. Each evening, the poor distressed father approached holding aloft his diminutive *infant, hoping it would influence us.

*Now middle-aged!


It got so we’d see him coming and duck behind the counter so we didn’t have to deal with his sad story. I still remember his name.

It wasn’t at all that we didn’t care but we couldn’t even get seats for paying passengers.

Eventually I went on days off and when I came back on duty, mercifully the strike was over and the leftover passengers were gone. Replaced by a new lot.


In all the years I travelled on discounted or free tickets, I expended a lot of time worrying but I was only ever late back for work once.

My parents were then in Barbados which was a busy route. My flight being indefinitely delayed in Georgetown meant the Pan Am fights were full


My parents kept waving goodbye to my taxi only to see me turn back up for another night. In the end I got away on the third day.

If you have to be stranded, what better place than Barbados with free accommodation?


It all seems terribly long ago and so many of the people in that story are no longer with us.

There are times when nostalgia overtakes but it is momentary, because nothing ever stays the same. Trying to hold on is pointless.

Today’s story is different and in so many ways, so much more joyful.

4 thoughts on “Joys

  1. Your story today confirms my long-held belief that there is nothing romantic or attractive about working for an airline. Just flying on flights I have paid for and been seated on was more than enough for me. I usually found that mind-numbingly dull.
    (With occasional moments of terror if the airline was Aeroflot)
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Your misty photos are beautiful (and actually work well with your story today in days gone by). I was quite surprised to read that you were only late for work once – you must have had some luck on your side.
    We flew from East London to Cape Town just yesterday and there were so many people in wheelchairs on the flight … it took us forever to board. Of course, this meant our flight was delayed (and I silently wondered what consequences this might have for the airline later in the day). Not an easy job to work for an airline …

    1. I was only late once because of issues with flights. The only other times I was late was because of weather (flood/snow) or as on my second day (!) because there was a hopeless traffic jam. After that I always managed to arrive an hour early!

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