The British celebrating ten years of service for Concorde’s trans-Atlantic service, accompanied by the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows, and Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, which also carried passengers trans-Atlantic but much slower.
On arrival at JFK (New York’s major airport) we taxied to terminal 7
There wasn’t any mistake as to our location because British Airways had their own terminal since 1970, when at that time they were the only foreign airline to operate their own terminal at JFK.
The sign dominated the building.
In 2022 British Airways will be moving to terminal 8 and terminal 7 will be demolished.
Back to my arrival into the USA. Once off the aircraft British Airways had a dedicate customs hall for Concorde passengers and dedicated baggage handling area. It was the fastest entry into any country that I had ever experienced.
I was met by a Company driver and taken to a hotel not too far from the airport. It was an odd hotel with security bars on the windows as if they were locking people in rather than treating them as guests. The bedroom door had about five locks.
It occurred to me that if there was a fire in the hotel, by the time I had unlocked the door it would be too late to escape. Oddly enough I cannot remember the name of this hotel, and I no longer have the bill.
I had arrived on Wednesday 12th March, and was booked out to fly to San Francisco on Friday evening, the 14th March, with United Airlines.
The time I spent at the Company offices was uneventful. The Friday evening plane to San Francisco had a departure time of 7.00 pm.
I ordered a taxi for 5.00 pm because even though I was economy (what a come down) I had plenty of time to check-in. Just before the taxi was due to arrive it began to rain, and it was very heavy rain.
I loaded my suitcase and bags into the taxi,and we set off in heavy rain. It was about halfway to the airport when the taxi ‘suffered’ a puncture in the rear right tyre and we came to a halt.
The driver got out and kicked the tyre and began to unpack his tools to change the wheel. I asked if he had an umbrella, which he did so I suggested that I hold the umbrella while he removed the wheel. His accent told me that he was not born in the US.
I was now standing in pouring rain on a very busy highway, it was getting dark, and I did not have a clue where I was, and the clock was ticking.
The driver was having a hard time trying to unscrew the bolts that held the wheel in place. During a short break when we shared the umbrella the driver commented that in America it was customary for a passenger to share the cost of the replacement tyre.
I asked him if he thought I had arrived in the last shower . . a comment that he did not understand and stood looking at me in the rain as if I had lost my mind.
I then suggested that it was drier in the taxi, and he could radio for a replacement taxi as I had a flight to catch.
Finally, the replacement taxi arrived and I moved everything into this vehicle.
I paid the first taxi for transporting me to where we stopped and started a new fare in the replacement vehicle, I was not interested any other local old wives’ tales about new tyres – I was soaked and my shoes squelched as I walked, I was not a happy chappy.
I arrived at the airport, and it was packed with travellers. I found the check-in counter for United Airlines and it was swamped with people – apparently the idea of a queue was un-American.
Not being used to a bun fight when checking in I considered my next move and realised that if you can’t beat them join them, which is what I did.
Everyone was soaked, thanks to the rain, and the whole area smelt of damp humanity, but with the use of height and elbows I managed to get to the check-in counter and secure a seat. From memory it was a DC10 and the configuration was 2 – 4 -2 and I managed one of the starboard side two, which was non-smoking.
They did not have the facility to offer a film to distract the passengers, nor did they have headphones to listen to music. My neighbour slept most of the way, & I read.
The flight time was around six hours and passengers at that time could smoke on an aircraft. The airlines would segregate the smokers, but of course they could not segregate the smoke which drifting through the passenger cabin.
The time difference between the two cities is three hours, so taking off at 7.00 pm in New York meant arriving in San Francisco at 1.00 am the next day, New York time, which was 10.00 pm in San Francisco.
San Francisco Airport in the 1980’s
I was met by the local manager and taken to a hotel – my body was around 2.00 am NY time, so I was told to rest up because tomorrow was Saturday, and he would be pick me up late morning and take me to his home for lunch.
The visit to San Francisco was a real joy – the local manager couldn’t do enough for me.
While in his home he explained the basic rules of American football, which was on TV at the time – even after watching it for about an hour I was non-the wiser as I kept comparing the rules to rugby, which does not require the players to wear armour. . . .
The team’s name was the 49ers and they were quite popular in San Francisco
Not being interested in sport, but not wishing to be rude, I did my best to show an interest in the game but found the constant stopping for one thing or another took the edge of the game for me. I could not understand why they all kept stopping the game.
In the evening I was taken out to dinner for ribs, a meat dish that I had not experienced before.
I must admit there was plenty of meat on the bone – which was unexpected. For some reason I always thought the dish would be shy of meat or have very little meat attached to the bone.
My other problem with this dish is that I hate getting my hands ‘dirty’ when eating, but I was able to cut most of the meat off with the use of a knife and fork and only managed a token attempt at using my fingers. The taste was very good and sometime later I tried ribs again, but in another country, it was not the same.
The following day being Sunday the manager picked me up from the hotel to show me San Francisco – forget the tour companies, find a local!
What did I want to see – asked the manager…
But before Lombard Street I wanted to drive along the Steve McQueen route in
Bullitt – but at a lot slower speed!
Car chase in Bullitt
Lombard Street was followed by –
The Golden Gate Bridge – opened in 1937
Fisherman’s Wharf, where we had a quick lunch.
Of course I wanted to see the cable cars.
Andrew Smith (later he added Hallidie to his name)
Born in London UK, 16 March 1836, died 24 April 1900.
He is credited with inventing the world’s first cable car.
He sailed from Liverpool to New York and eventually made his way to the gold fields of California, but if you wish to know more of this very interesting individual try this link http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/archive/Library/HallidieBio.htm
Coit Tower built in 1933 I wanted to see the views from the top.
From the car park one can see Alcatraz Island with the well-known prison.
I did not get a chance to visit Alcatraz due to time limits – it closed as a prison in 1963.
I had Monday and Tuesday (17th & 18th March) in the office and flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday to visit the LA office, late Wednesday and all-day Thursday so I booked my ticket with United Airlines for a Sunday departure to Australia.
I planned to visit Universal Studio on Friday (21st March) & perhaps Disney World on Saturday (22nd March), after all I might never return to LA in the future, and I would be able to buy presents for my children.
Universal Studio 1986
Once again the best of plans . . . . I woke in anticipation of Universal Studios only to be greeted by very heavy rain, which put a damper (excuse the pun) on a visit to Universal Studio.
I waited for the rain to ease but it didn’t – it rained all day and the next day, so I spent two days locked in a hotel. The rain was so heavy it would have been ridiculous to have attempted to visit either attraction, nor I could not be sure that they had not closed due to the weather.
On Sunday I reverted to being a business class passenger for the long flight to Sydney.
I checked in for the United Airline flight UA 815 and I asked if the bubble was available, and if they would be showing a film or two during the flight – I was told that they would be showing a film in the Bubble.
I then asked if the flight would be non-stop because I was in a hurry to get home. I was told that it would be non-stop.
In February of 1986 United Airlines took over Pan American Airlines Pacific routes and assets, which included 18 aircraft for USD $750 million.
Everything was routine as we took off and the normal meal service began.
After lunch I asked when they would be showing a film (movie) and was told by an older stewardess that they would not be showing a movie in the Bubble.
The lady was not impolite she just sounded a little surprised that I thought there would be a film in the Bubble.
I mentioned that the stewardess (in today’s pc world ‘flight attendant’) was no longer young, because she would have been in her late 40’s or perhaps early 50’s.
At that time in the 1980’s female flight attendants where ‘youth-full’ and the more mature were in charge or rostered on shorter flight sectors rather than LAX to SYD, which is a 15 hour 30 minutes sector. The female flight attendant that I spoke to was not in charge.
I asked if there were any seats downstairs that I could use while watching a film, there wasn’t any because they were full.
Later in the flight we were told that we were diverting to Fiji because we were getting low on fuel . . . now I felt very sorry for the flight attendant that I had spoken to earlier, her working day had just been increased by an extra two or three hours.
Crew beds on long flights had yet to be ‘invented.’
My feelings at the time were that I was flying with a domestic airline trying to be an international airline, and they were failing.
I suppose the takeover of Pan Am and the gaining of the international routes the previous month had overwhelmed the management and they were plugging holes to keep things going. . .
I do not have any idea what United Airline is like today, because I never flew with them again.