I will reproduce the whole story for you here:
THE EARLY YEARS
Oh, where to begin. Hmm, well, I guess one could say that my love affair with aviation began when I was at the tender age of three months. In 1979, the year I was born, I took my first flight - Eastern Airlines from New Orleans to Houston. My mom and dad brought me along to go attend the Cotton Bowl college football game in the astrodome. Do I remember it? Of course not, but my mom did snap a great pic of my dad holding me at the window seat. I was dressed in a bright orange University of Tennessee one-piece suit. I guess that’s why I love UT...interesting. Well after that, I suppose the rest is history. My first airplane memory as a child was, say, when I was 3 or 4. I can remember perfectly to this day my grandfather driving me past MSY(that’s New Orleans International Airport for the lay person), and I was awe struck. And what was the first plane that got my attention? Well, I called it “ the plane with the big blue ball “. Yes, I was referring to Pan Am jets. I recall asking my grandfather “what is that plane with the big blue ball?”, and my grandfather would answer “ that is a Pan Am.” In 1984, I went on a Delta Airlines flight to Orlando(Disney World of course), but I do not remember anything about that trip...plane type, routing, anything. Too bad; however, my 1986 trip to Orlando I clearly remember. My mom, dad, and I flew on Muse Air to Orlando. Nothing special really, but the return trip was unique. I waited at the gate, my little 6-year-old mind going crazy with two thoughts: 1) I was going to fly again 2) The day after we got home, we would pick up my brother from the hospital. So I was an excited little boy. Before our plane arrived at the gate, I spotted a Pan Am 727-100, which I pointed out to my father by saying “ there’s Pan Am daddy.” My dad immediately filmed the Clipper, and also got a nice shot of a departing L1011. I still watch the video from time to time. When the plane pulled up, I was like “ wow!”. You see, we returned to New Orleans on a Transtar MD-80. I am one of the few people who can proudly say that I flew on both a Muse Air and a Transtar plane in the space of a week.
My parents really out-did themselves for my birthday party in 1987. I was going to be 8, and I was an airplane freak. To this day I have no idea how they pulled this one off. I had my party at the New Orleans International Airport. We got to use a meeting room near Concourse C. There must have been at least 30 people that attended my party, including lots of my friends and relatives. After we all sat down at the big table, some nice airport employees handed each one of us some pictures of planes and a Fed Ex plastic model that actually flew. That was cool in itself, just being in the airport, but what came next has to be the best thing ever. A lady from the airport led our group down Concourse C, where we gathered at an Eastern Airlines gate. She handed us out a pair of Eastern wings, then told us the news: we would be going on an actual plane! I was so excited. I boarded the Boeing 727-200, and got a good window seat. All my friends were in awe. After being told all about this plane, each child got to spend a minute in the cockpit. Being the birthday boy, I got to spend 5 minutes!!!! Looking at all of the panels of the 727, I realized that I was, one day, going to fly one of these birds. I got to sit in the captain’s seat, press a few emergency alarm buttons, and try out the rudders and yoke. Oh god, what a time! After visiting the three-holer, we returned to the room for cake. I ate my he-man cake, then walked over to the window to watch planes. And you won’t believe what I saw. A Tower Air 747 taxied and parked itself right next to our room! I was in heaven....it was the first time I got to see a 747 in person, and it happened on my birthday, at my home airport! That was a party that I will always remember. And the best part? It’s all on film.
Our next trip was when I first fell in love with a wide-body. The year...1988. The place...my house. My family and I left our home at about 6:30pm for MSY. We were once again Disney-bound, back on-board Delta. At this time I could recognize aircraft types easily. As soon as I got to the gate I glued my face against the window, anxiously waiting our planes arrival. Now Delta was flying big stuff into MSY back in ‘88...L1011’s, 767’s, DC8-70’s. What did we get? A damn 727. I can remember being disappointed. I did not know, however, that this plane would take us to Atlanta, where we have to change planes for Orlando. Our plane was running late, so we had to literally run through the concourse at ATL to catch our flight. And with a cranky, tired 8-year-old, a weeping baby, and several bags, my parents must have had a tough time. Well, we made it to the gate. As I walked down the jetway, I looked through the opening near the boarding door and caught a glimpse of the tail engine of the plane. I can clearly remember saying “Oh no, not another 727!” Well a 727 it was not. It was allot bigger. Walking down the near-empty aisles, I was giddy as a school boy. Taking my seat, I recognized the plane. We were on a 300-seat L1011 TriStar!!! Oh goodness, what a flight! The L1011 was extremely spacious, comfortable, and sturdy. The takeoff, which my dad filmed, was awesome. I had a smile on my face during the whole flight. My dad, too, thought the plane was cool. My mom was just chilling, holding Jason, who was sound asleep. That flight I will always remember. It was my first flight on a wide-body, and to this day, I consider the L1011 to be the finest wide-body flying.
A NEW DECADE
In 1990, we headed for the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Of course, we flew. Continental Airlines in fact. I sat in the chair in Concourse B, waiting for our flight to depart. I was stoked...hell, the last time I flew was in 88. Almost by instinct, I remember looking out the window and, a second later, I saw and heard the roar of a Pan Am 727 lift off bound for Dallas/Ft.Worth. Seeing a Clipper depart was still a treat. Our house at the time was in such a place where we could see planes on final-approach to runway 19, and departing on 1, very clearly. Every morning, I would grab my binoculars and spend at least 30 minutes outside watching planes take off and/or land before I left for school. I saw a Pan Am depart nearly every morning for Miami. Those were the days. Where was I. Oh yeah, getting ready to go to Denver. The announcement was made: “ Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Continental flight 1775, golden jet service to Denver.” The plane was an MD-80. I miss the old Continental colors. Our skiing trip was really cool, then we got on another M80, flight 1212, for our return flight back to MSY. That was my first plane trip of the 1990’s. My interest in aviation was steadily growing. I was happy.
Will I ever forget 1991? I doubt that very much. In January of that year, a once proud airline, Eastern, closed its doors. I was sad...thinking about my birthday in 87 on the EA jet...realizing that the first plane I was ever on was an Eastern. But, and I thought this on several occasions, “at least Pan Am is still flying.” In the summer of 91, in June or July, I was once again airborne, this time on American Airlines to Baltimore. I liked American. Also around that time I remember asking my dad if we could fly to Dallas for a day, as Pan Am had a $100 round-trip fare advertised in the local travel section. The answer was no of course. But if my folks knew what was to happen in just a few short months, they might have re-considered their decision.
I remember that most of December 4th, 1991, was just a typical, normal day for a 12 year old. I got back from school at around 3:30, as usual. I spent an hour doing my homework, then I decided to go watch the tv with my grandparents. They had on the 5:00pm news on Channel 3. So I sat down and watched. I shouldn’t have. For some reason, I watched just as the story began...” Pan Am closes its doors.” I was thinking “ what is going on here? This can’t be!” I remember the news crew interviewing passengers on the plane bound for Miami saying “ I was on my way to so-and-so when they told us that we would have to get off of the plane.” They showed the footage of the 727 just sitting at the gate. I was shocked, stunned, and totally devastated. I can recall that I did cry about this, and for good reason. The airline that I grew up with...the first airline that I recognized...was gone. God bless Pan American.
For my 12th birthday, I took a trip up to Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN, to go visit my aunt. I was excited as it was to be my first time that I was flying by myself. One night after school, I sat in the kitchen with my dad. He was calling airlines getting fare and flight information. I remember telling him to ask the airlines if they flew wide-bodies on any of the routes. I was in my mind going through flight schedules, realizing that the only wide-body I could possibly get on was a Delta 767. American had canceled its DC10 flight to DFW earlier in the year, and Continental’s A300 to Houston did not provide an adequate connection to MSP. “ Stephen, American has a DC10 from here to Dallas and back.” What!!!! Go AA....they must have brought the flight back!!! Since the fare was only about $250, my dad booked it. My flight departed MSY at 8:20am, but we arrived a little late, say around 7:45am. Luckily, we made it. Speedily passing through security, I immediately noticed the huge sillouhette of the DC10 sitting at gate B4. God it looked mighty big. I said my goodbyes and boarded the behemoth. I had window seat 13J, right over the leading edge of the right wing. Right next to the huge GE engine. I was instantly struck at the size of the wing. This was my first wide-body flight since 1988. I was pumped. We took off to the West. Even though it was only a 1h20m flight, we were served breakfast. Ah, the good old days. Both flights to and from MSP were on MD-80’s. Nothing special. Back in DFW two days later, I waited at our gate to board flight 577 to New Orleans. The flight was pretty empty, so after a nice flight attendant noticed that I was traveling alone, she sat down and talked to me for a bit. She was extremely nice, and invited me to sit in first class!!!! Of course I did not refuse. Before that, however, I paid a visit to the cockpit, where the pilots said hello to me. The DC10’s cockpit was enormous!!! The First Class on the DC10 was very nice. I was treated like a king on that short 1h5m flight. I must have had 5 cokes, and all of the flight attendants chatted with me. Right before I was going to de-plane, the chief f/a handed me a certificate, signed by the entire flight crew, saying “ Stephen Oliveri is someone special in the air.” I still have it in my scrapbook. This was also a significant journey in the fact that AA stopped its wide-body service into MSY just months later.
Somewhere around this time, probably around 1993, my interest in aviation was put on hold, as I was trying to “be cool” in school. I thought to myself that this hobby of collecting and studying flight schedules was very un-cool. I did something very rash. I threw away my entire collection of flight schedules! All my Pan Am and Eastern schedules....my old Delta schedules which had L1011 flights from MSY listed...old AA schedules....everything went in the garbage. This “disinterest in aviation” only lasted a few days, however. I was horribly mad at myself for throwing away such important schedules, and I realized that if people think my hobby is stupid, they are not really true friends.
In March of 93, I went on my 8th grade trip, visiting D.C, New York, and Williamsburg, VA. We flew on Continental, routing MSY-IAH-DCA, then LGA-IAH-MSY. All 727’s and M80’s. Only thing out of the ordinary about this trip was that our approach into Houston from New Orleans was so bumpy that my friend’s cup of O.J was knocked onto his lap. We landed in a nice thunderstorm.
HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
My family’s summer trip in 1995 was not to Disney World. No, we were going to the city which is the home of my graceland. My graceland is Wrigley Field. The city was Chicago. We once again boarded the proud wings of Delta for this trip, as our return Chicago-Atlanta flight was to be a wide-body 767-300. But before we got to Chicago, I experienced my first “emergency” situation. As our MD-88 sped down MSY’s runway, all of a sudden the plane’s breaks took hold, and we screeched to a halt with little room to spare. The captain said “ a cockpit warning light came on.” Interesting. After a good hour delay, we were in the air again. Surprisingly enough, we made our connection in Cincinnati. Too bad we did, as our flight to Chicago was on an extremely loud, old, 737-200. I needed a hearing-aid after I stepped off of the plane. I enjoyed the 767-300 and the 757 on the return segments though. And the Cubs games were nice too, even though they lost the first game. They did, however, rally and win the second.
1996 was a good year. Not only did I visit my aunt in MSP again(Northwest Airlines this time, which I consider to be a pretty good, if not underrated airline), but I learned via the USA Today Money section that Pan Am was returning to the sky! As expected, it was al I talked about for awhile. But I kept the good news away from my classmates, who would have no doubt laughed at me. Sure enough, one day while watching the noon news, a video of a Pan Am A300 was shown, with the anchor saying things like “after a 5 year absence, Pan Am returns to the sky.” That was a great day. After remembering the heartache of the news on 12/4/91, this felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. My airline was back, and I was ecstatic. No one really ever understood what that airline meant to me, although now I am proud to say that both my parents understand. And even a few of my friends do. In April of 96, I joined my grandafther on a business trip to Los Angeles. That trip was my first time flying on the “airline that luv built”. Southwest impressed me, although the MSY-LAX route might be a bit of a strecth on WN. The return flight I was on was actually a 2-stop direct flight. It was supposed to be a 737-300, but what do u think it was? That’s right, a noisy, smoke-blowing 737-200. Scheduled flying time was six hours, but thanks to our three hour delay in El Paso, TX, I spent a total of nine hours on the 73S. That has to be some sort of a record, don’t ya think?
The year 1997 was to be the year that I graduated from my high school. It was also the year that I went on three wonderful trips...and one unforgettabel one. Over our Mardi Gras break of 97(most school’s in N.O get the entire Mardi Gras week off every year), I returned to Colorado. This time, my friend Drew, as well as my mother’s associate, Dr. Rabito and his family, joined me and my fam. The significance of this trip? Not only did I master the green slopes(I even did a few intermediate runs), it was my first time on United Airlines. All of us were impressed by United, although my dad had flown them several times before on business trips to San Francisco. Next up on the agenda was my senior cruise. For a week and one-half in early May, myself and 50 other students and faculty from my school went on a Southern Caribbean cruise on board Norwegian Cruise Lines MS Seaward, leaving from San Juan. Ports of call included Santo Domingo, Barbados, Dominica, Antigua, and St. Thomas. We flew Delta. Since I joined the trip late, I was forced to fly on an earlier flight with my principle’s wife, as the flight the students were on was full. Flying with ‘Mrs. Federico” was a bit awkward, but it could have been worse I suppose. My first international flight, Atlanta to San Juan, was flown on-board a 767-300. I remember they showed Jerry Mcguire and served a pathetic “snack” on the 4-hour flight. Delta really disappointed me on that trip. Both return flights were on 767’s. After my senior cruise, I visited Louisiana Tech University. I was considering going to La Tech to take up Professional Aviation(i.e., pilot training), but wanted to visit the place first. I liked what I saw. One of the nights at the Holiday Inn in Ruston, I was watching the 10pm news with my fam, when suddenly the Pan Am globe appeared on the screen. The story told us that Pan Am had just bought out Carnival Airlines. Way to go Pan Am, I thought. Anyway, that trip convinced me that Tech was the place for me. That September, I was going to be a Techster. I graduated from High School that May. I didn’t win any awards....wasn’t the most popular, wasn’t the best athlete, wasn’t the valedictorian....but I did have something that no one else had....a ticket on Pan Am!! Weeks earlier, my dad and mom asked me what I wanted for my graduation gift, and I told them, with all my heart, that I wanted to fly on a Pan Am Clipper. It took them awhile to agree. But eventually they did, and my dad and I flew up to Chicago, where we saw a Cubs game, then next morning flew on Pan Am(the plane was a Carnival 727, not a Pan Am clipper, which upset me greatly) to Miami, then we spent a night in Miami, and flew Miami-Chicago the next day, then because the Pan Am/Carnival flight out of Miami was delayed, we missed our connecting flight home, so Pan Am put us up in the Days Inn - Midway Airport, a really cheap hotel, for the night. The next morning, we flew back home via Detroit. Even though Pan Am really disappointed me by placing a Carnival plane on the route, it was still a Pan Am flight...all the tickets, ticket jackets, cups, napkins, plates, and employees were in Pan Am colors. It was an awesome trip. I took tons of cool pics in MIA, including a few of Pan Am A300’s which were going to JFK. This trip was the best graduating present I could ever ask for. And I know my dad loved it, too. Just a couple of weeks after our Pan Am adventure came to a close, my family and I boarded a Delta 757 for Atlanta, where would connect to an L1011 to Orlando! Once again, we got on the Tristar. Oh, what an experience. It was like stepping right back in to 1988 when I first got on the plane. I enjoyed this flight better though, as it was in daylight. Returning we got on a L1011-500, Delta’s international version of the plane. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again....The L1011 is the best wide-body ever built!!!
That trip to Disney was to be the last before I started my first year of college. I decorated my dorm room with all things aviation. I even had a wipe-on/wipe-off board where I had something on it called “Flight of the Day”: every morning before class, I flipped through flight schedules, closed my eyes, and pointed to a flight. Whatever flight my finger landed on was the “Flight of the Day”. One day I had TWA 708, one day I had Delta 1234. I’m a real freak aren’t I? Well, it was fun while it lasted. I got tired of doing it after a few weeks. Life at Tech was really fun at first. I had a great time flying the Cessna 152’s, and I enjoyed being a part of the Alpha Eta Rho fraternity. Eventually, though, things started going down. For one, the flight training was becoming, in my view, increasingly un-safe. I did not like how Tech had upper-class students teaching the flight training. And also, I was not really clicking with my class, except for a couple of older students. They did love to fly, but were not keen on talking about airline stuff alot. For example, when I said things like “ Did you hear that American has ordered 777’s” I got responses like “oh cool” and “neat”. I needed to be around people that actually cared about this stuff. The chemistry just wasn’t there, with my classmates and with my flight instructor. Eventually, I changed majors. Part of me wishes to this day that I should have stuck with it. But for the most part, I’m happy with my decision to change majors.
In February of 1998, I was content with my life. I was still working in the Aviation office at Tech, taking general classes, following daily airline press releases on yahoo.com. Yeah, things were going good. On this day, I was in the computer lab in Wily Tower. I was viewing the day’s airline news. I really wish I didn’t. What I saw jumped out at me like a 747-400 at MSY......” Pan Am Files Chapter 11, Grounds Fleet”. I proceeded to read the press release. I read it over and over again. I could not believe it. Not again. This couldn’t be happening. But it did happen. Pan Am closed it doors once more. And just like that day seven years ago, I was in pieces. I clearly remember me walking slowly back to my dorm, quite choked up, wondering what people were thinking when they saw me, looking up at the clear blue sky, hoping that somehow, some way, Pan Am would fly again. Those next few days were very bad. About a month later, to my extreme delight, I read that Pan Am was to be a charter airline, owned by the well-funded Guliford Transportation Co. of New Hampshire. At least that “big blue ball” will be flying. That’s all that matters.
That summer, the summer after Tech and before Johnson and Wales, I visited Europe. Accompanying me on this adventure was Mauricio, a friend of the family who has been to Europe at least eight times. Last time I checked he had well over 200,000 miles on United. We flew Boeing 777’s of “the friendly skies” to and from Frankfurt from Dulles. We only had 8 days in Europe, but we visited 5 countries. It was crazy. Also that Summer, I flew up to Providence to visit my current alma matar, Johnson and Wales University.
My decision to attend a school located 1500 miles away from my home was a tough one to swallow at first. But then as I thought about it, I realized “hey, I will be flying alot.” And boy was I right. Since I have been here at JWU, I have flown to and from New Orleans 12 times, Colorado once(I took a week off from school in Jan., 99 to go skiing), Tennessee once(March, 99 to go visit Drew at his college; once again flew on L1011 Boston-Atlanta and back), Orlando once(March, 2000; I used my United ff miles for a free ticket; got routed MCO-DEN-ORD-PVD on the return), Key West(from MSY during the Summer of 99) and Italy(my internship trip in November of 2000; departed from Boston). Yes, these past couple of years have been very interesting. My love of aviation is still as grand as ever. Only a year left now until I graduate from college. What will I do after that? Hopefully work for the airlines. Johnson and Wales has been good for me, as it has taught me to live on my own. I have several good friends. I always miss New Orleans after being away for a month or so....the food, my family and friends, the weather, the way the sun shines on the might Mississippi River, the gleaming skyscrapers, the old-world charm of the French Quarter, the suddenly not-so-hapless Saints. And I miss hanging around the New Orleans International Airport. Even though there are lots of bigger airports throughout the nation, MSY is “my” airport. It is where I grew up, and I will always follow its progress with a keen interest. Every time I am out there, I feel like I am stepping back in time. I can see the ghosts of the Pan Am 727’s...the spirits of the National DC-10’s...the apparitions of the Delta L1011’s. Walking through the concourses, I feel a great sense of belonging. Whenever I feel down or upset, I hop in the car and head down I-10 West for about ten minutes until I see the exit sign for the airport. And as the car goes down the ramp connecting the interstate with the airport access road, I catch a glimpse of the terminal and think to myself “this will be fun.”
In conclusion, my life has been a very interesting one indeed. Although to many people I may be viewed as “a little out there” for loving aviation so much, I think not. I think it is truly unique in this day of age to have a passion for something so great, that it spans your entire life. My love for aviation will forever endure, in good times and in bad. Nothing will prevent me from continuing to collect flight schedules....to hang out at the airport for fun....to park my car next to a runway and just enjoy the sounds, smells, and sights of commercial jets landing and taking off mere yards in fromt of me. Nothing. For when I am a 90 year old man, my life thoroughly behind me, I will still be found watching planes while flipping through Delta’s May, 2069 flight schedule. Yes it is certainly true, when all is said and done, I’d rather be flying.