Airline: TCA, BOAC, TCA
Aircraft: Douglas DC-3, Lockheed 049 Constellation, Canadair DC-4M
Date: September 1953
This was to be my first trip back to England since emigrating to Canada in 1947. In this era Toronto was far behind Montreal as far as International air service was concerned. To get to the UK and Europe one had to fly from YUL
. I don't remember whether TCA had flights to London at that time, but I may have chosen BOAC becaude I wanted to fly in a Connie.
I have no clear memory of the DC-3 flight to Montreal with a stop at Ottawa. I probably felt the same about it as many people do today about flying in an RJ
- boring and uncomfortable.
The Connie was much nicer inside than the DC-4 had been 6 years previously, but I don't remember any details. I don't think we had a full passenger load which would have been about 48. I was sitting over the wing, and when we took off for the 4 hour flight to Gander I discovered that being close to the engines was not the ideal spot. They were noisy, really noisy. I was told that it wouldn't be so bad when we reached cruising altitude - between 20 and 25 thousand feet I think. This turned out to be true, but for the 20 minutes or so that it took to get there I found it almost unbearable.
We had left YUL
in the late afternoon and were served dinner on the way to YQX
. What it was I don't remember, but it was served with real cutlery and dishes - nothing plastic. When we arrived at Gander for what should have been a relatively short stop, we we in for a nasty surprise.
We were informed that because of the weather we would be spending the night at YQX
. We were required to have at least one, or at may have been two, alternate airports open before we could set out across the Atlantic. At the moment - about 11 pm local time, there were weren't any. The good news was, there was hotel accomodation available. The bad news - for me anyway - there was only enough room for the female passemgers. This was long before the days of Women's Lib and Political Correctness, so the men didn't complain - especially when informed that the bar in the terminal stayed open all night.
I can only spend so much time in a bar, trying not to drink myself into a stupor, so when I found out that we could go back to the plane and try to get to sleep there, I decided to do just that. There was only one drawback, it was pouring with rain and our Connie was parked about 50 yards away, with an uncovered stairway and a closed door. I dashed across to the plane, flew up the stairs and started pounding on the door and yelling to be let in. Eventually - it was probably only a minute or so, some kind soul took pity on me and let me in. It was then that I discovered a second drawback - the rain pounding down on the metal fuselage, made so much noise I couldn't get to sleep. There was a third drawback. About every half hour or so another passenger would arrive at the top of the steps and start pounding on the door. Those of us inside would pretend to be asleep, each hoping somebody else would get up to open the door. Our F/As, of course, were bissfully asleep in the hotel.
In the morning we were able to take off for the ten hour flight to Prestwick, Scotland. During this rather boring daylight trip I spent some time talking to the couple across the aisle from me. I had noticed them on the flight from YYZ
. They were getting off at Prestwick and going to the Edinburgh Festival, than touring Britain by car for a week or two. The plane got to LHR
after another 2 hours - in the dark again and we finally arrived 12 hours late. My relatives, who had come to meet me, had been waiting for hous as they couldn't get a definite arrival time from BOAC.
About 2 weeks later we drove around Southern England for a couple of days and decided to stop for the night in an inn in a small country town (I think it was Whitchurch, Hants.). While we were registering, my mother mentioned that I was visiting from Toronto. "That's a coincidence", said the Innkeeper. "About an hour ago another couple from Toronto checked in. Perhaps you know them". Yeah, right, I thought, Toronto's such a small place I know everybody. Just then two people came down stairs into the lobby. You've guessed it, it was the couple I'd said goodbye to when they got off the plane in Scotland. The odds against something like that happening must be astronomical. It also turned out that they were going back on the same flight as me, too.
The flight back to Canada was uneventful, interesting only in that we flew from Prestwick to Keflavik, Iceland, which was a US Navy base in those days. Unfortunately it was dark so I didn't get to see anything. Presumably we went that way for weather reasons. It resulted in us being able to by-pass YQX
and fly directly to YUL
- an 11 hour flight.
The final leg - YUL
with TCA was on another new type for me - a DC-4M 'North Star'. These planes were very noisy and were eventually fitted with cross-over exhaust pipes to try to keep the worst of the noise away from the cabin. I don't know if this one had been modified or not. In any event is was a lot nicer than the ex-military DC-4 I had flown in in 1947. For one thing it was pressurized and could cruise at a much higher altitude. In fact it had most of the features of a DC-6, but the dimensions of a DC-4.
Total flying time: 34.6 hours.