Transoceanic Flights: Not What They Used to Be.

November 20, 2017 | Author: Jeff Berry

When I was 10, the Navy moved my dad and our family from Washington, D.C., to Guam, in the Western Pacific. In those days, nonstop transcontinental flights were still a new thing, and we flew on a brand-new Boeing 707 from Baltimore to Los Angeles. To be able to fly coast-to-coast on a jet, in one five-hour flight, was the stuff of science fiction. We were all wearing our “Sunday best” (this was an era when people also dressed up for church); air travel was a formal thing back then. The stewardess (as they called flight attendants in the 1960s) gave my little sister and me souvenir pilot’s wings and invited us to go up to meet the captain in the cockpit. You can imagine how exciting this was to a 10-year-old.

After a couple of weeks in California visiting my grandparents, Dad flew ahead to Guam to get our new house ready. Two weeks later, the rest of us took off from Travis AFB in a prop Douglas DC-6 to begin our 10,000 kilometer (6,200 mile) odyssey across the Pacific, or transpac as the Navy called it. It took 27 hours to get to Guam, with refueling layovers in Hawaii and Wake Island. Of course, there wasn’t in-flight Wi-Fi, or movies, or phones or any entertainment then. Mom read to us, or we read to ourselves. And we had coloring books and paper to draw on. I remember not being able to sleep. After we finally landed on Guam, I really felt for the first time how big the planet was.

Leap forward 57 years. Last week United Airlines announced that it had inaugurated its first nonstop service from Los Angeles to Singapore. The United flight breaks the record for commercial nonstop service, flying 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles). The westbound flight takes almost 18 hours, with the eastbound leg a little more than 15 hours, thanks to the jet stream. United uses its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with 252 seats on this transpac (three times as many as that DC-6 my family took). But other airlines, like Qantas, Emirates and Air India, have announced that next year they will offer even longer nonstop routes between London and Perth, Dubai and Aukland, and Delhi and San Francisco.

Of course, in the century since commercial flight started, there have been many firsts. The first regular commercial flights (fixed wing) took place in 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, a whopping 15-mile trip. The first transpac routes began in 1935 with Pan-Am’s Clipper “flying boat” service from San Francisco to Manila (via the same refueling stops my family made 25 years later on Hawaii, Wake Island and Guam). The Pan-Am Clipper carried 13 passengers, each for an airfare of roughly $14,000 in today’s dollars. I’m sure it was first class.

The first commercial nonstop transatlantic flight, from Berlin to New York, took place in 1938 and seemed to begin a new era in air travel. But World War II put that on hold until 1947. The first regular nonstop transcontinental flights (New York to Los Angeles) started operating in1953. The planet continued to shrink.

All through this century of flight, none of these long-distance achievements could have happened without the continuous inventions coming from companies like Honeywell. Inventions, from the first aircraft stabilizer in 1914 to the Connected Aircraft of today, have made it possible for aircraft to fly farther, safer and with greater economy than was ever thought possible. Not to mention far more comfort for passengers.

As I read about United’s new direct LA-Singapore service, I thought back to my own 27-hour transpac trip on that loud DC-6 decades ago. I thought about how far we’ve come and how small the planet has shrunk. I also thought of how much we could have used high-speed Wi-Fi during that tedious flight; streaming movies, games, TV shows, email and phone calls.

Still, coloring books and reading yet have their place. Even on an 18-hour flight to Singapore.


Berry BlogDouglas DC-6, once the standard workhorse of air travel, arriving at Agana, Guam, in 1960.



Berry blogThe author (left) and his family arriving on Guam after a 27-hour transpac flight in 1960. And yes, those leis were heavy and hot.

Jeff Berry

Jeff Berry

Author and writer for Honeywell, has been writing for aerospace marketing for decades. Before that he was an air intelligence officer in the United States Navy.

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