I really consider myself fortunate that I got to fly TWA as often as I did. The first time I stepped onboard TWA was on a 707 that had the space-age disc lighting in the ceiling, and it took me across the country overnight from SFO
. As we were heading down the taxiway to our gate after landing, a gorgeous L-1011 arrived from LAX
and touched down right next to us, the closest I'd ever been to one in motion up until that time.
When I was a teenager, my parents used to let me go down to SFO
on the Airporter bus and I'd spend hours on the observation deck of the old Central Terminal watching planes take off and land, snapping pictures with my green and ivory Instamatic (yes, still have a lot of those pics). I still remember the first time I saw the Tristar in double-globe livery take off for Chicago in the early 70's. What a sight.
In the late 70's and early 80's, I worked in the Kaiser Center along Lake Merritt in Oakland, and as I was walking in, I always stopped to look up to see which planes were crossing over the lake on their way east. At that time the first flights of the morning from SFO
were on 747's, and you could watch one after the other climbing out over Oakland on their way east. I told myself I'd be on one someday, too. It was a mixed blessing that my first trip to Europe got routed SFO
on an L-1011 first, changing to a 747, but the next year I struck onto a delightful deal. TWA offered one-way standby tickets for $250 to either London, Amsterdam or Brussels in the fall. It was luck of the draw, you could choose where to go depending upon where they had seats that morning. The day I showed up seats were available to all three, so I chose Amsterdam, and with that, I was off to Europe for several months. I finally got my dream to look down over the lake from a window seat on a TWA 747 bound for New York.
A couple of years earlier, my first ever trip to Las Vegas was on a TWA 727-100, in the days when TWA still ran the routes from the midwest through Vegas and onto the coast. The plane I took down was continuing on to Columbus or Dayton, or somewhere near there. It was always exciting to walk beneath the giant TWA departures board in the old South Terminal listing all the stops your flight was taking, right next to the Tiki Bar (you can see it in movies like What's Up Doc?
, and possibly Bullitt
That trip to Vegas was bizarre in a number of ways. I'd booked through TWA Vacations (to get the beige bag with TWA running down the side in red several times, of course), and the lady who arranged everything over the phone for me told me about her favorite slot machine at the airport, and when I got there, I dropped 5 quarters in it, just as she suggested, and I won a $50 jackpot! I was sold on Vegas from then on.
Originally I was going to Vegas alone, but about a week before I left a friend wanted to join me, and we switched hotels from the MGM Grand (that a family friend had recommended) to Caesar's Palace (where he wanted to stay). We departed on the morning of November 21, 1980. That night the MGM burned. We were going to go over there to have dinner that night and gamble for a while, but we were absorbed watching some Italian lose a half million at baccarat at Caesar's, and went outside to watch the ordeal unfold when we first heard of the tragedy. There were some survivors on our return flight, and as we were deplaning, the local news had cameras and reporters at our gate to get interviews.
I had a lot of firsts with TWA. First L-1011, first time in First, first time in Business, first frequent flyer program I signed up with (October 1981), and the first time I did a mileage run (a simple SFO
return to get two extra segments).
It was really sad to see TWA slowly decline. The last time I thought it really had a future was right after they took over Ozark. I remember having lunch in Business flying MXP
, and all the silverware had the Ozark logo on them. Quite surreal while flying above the Alps.
In the early 90's the handwriting was clearly on the wall, and it had been called "the great shrinking airline" by no less than AW
&ST. I was a bond trader at that time, and we made a market in TWA bonds, that we always called "tee-way" for short. That's still the name I call it by even today.
Flight 800 hit home rather hard. A friend of mine's sister-in-law was a flight attendant with TWA, and she flew just enough to maintain health insurance and other benefits. She liked to fly to Paris, and often took that run. I remember hearing about the crash while I was on my way home from work, but didn't hear until later she'd been scheduled to be on it. It was a couple of hours before it was learned that her incoming flight from St. Louis (where she lived) had been delayed, and a couple of reserve crew took the place of those on the delayed flight. She had just boarded her return flight for St. Louis when 800 went down.
If I have anything close to halcyon days, TWA is part of the fabric of it all, taking an adventurous young man places I'd only dreamed of before, and I wish it was still here to be a part of all my future adventures. One last time I'd like to board a TWA 747 bound for Europe, having spent my connecting time in the Ambassador's Club in Saarinen's masterpiece, being a part of the excitement Kennedy airport was back then.