You couldn't travel anywhere in the United States in those days without rubbing elbows with servicemen of every branch. We traveled in uniform to take advantage of cut-rate standby fares. However, looking at the crowd and the lack of any airplanes, I opted for a full-fare ticket. I had some savings that I could bank on when needed.
I waited eight hours at the terminal before a single Delta jet arrived. I had passed the time with other servicemen, drinking beer and playing pinball machines. When the jet pulled up to the terminal, we waited expectantly for all of the passengers to unload. The airline agents told us to be patient when we asked where it would go next. "We don't know yet," they explained. Yet?
Some passengers collected their luggage and left the airport after deborading. But many joined the waiting crowd until a Delta agent climbed on top of his counter and asked, “How many of you are heading west?”
A number of people raised their hands and held them aloft while he counted. He hadn't asked if they were traveling to a specific destination, just a direction. He then asked how many of us were traveling north. I held my hand up until counted with my fellow travelers. There was no need to ask if anyone was headed east. There's wasn't anything but water that way. And, he didn't ask for southbound passengers. I can only speculate why.
Those head west outnumbered us and he announced, “This flight is now bound for St. Louis. Anyone wishing to travel there please come to the desk with your luggage and we'll check in as many as we can.”
Those of us left behind watched forlornly as the plane loaded and departed, and we settled in for another wait. No one could tell us if or when another plane might arrive and I was tempted to head for the bus station.
A second plane arrived two hours later and the same scene was replayed. This time, after hands were counted, the Delta agent announced that the plane was headed for Baltimore and I thanked my lucky stars that was exactly where I wanted to go. I had just enough time to call my family and give them our estimated time of arrival at Friendship International Airport, before we were whisked away as another group of stranded travelers watched in dismay.
I had a few minutes at Friendship to watch the same scene replayed as I waited for my father to arrive to pick me up. I wondered why I hadn't seen a Piedmont flight all day.
We landed at Washington International Airport in Washington – safely, I might add – and taxied to the far end of the terminal. When I got inside, I was directed to the Piedmont boarding gates at the far end. I began walking in that direction and then running when I began to worry that I would miss my plane. I began to believe that the terminal building was longer than the runway. Of course, I arrived in a sweat to learn that my flight had been delayed.
Cruising altitude in a Convair 440 is just slightly higher than a piper cub. In many ways, flying at that altitude was like taking a road trip; you got to see the sights along the way. And, we stopped at many of them, including every small airport. Of course, my fellow passenger disappeared in a cloud of condensation every time we landed at one.
Thinking back on those adventures, I believe that I would rather take another flight on a DC-3 or a Convair 440, than every subject myself to a TSA pat down in a modern airport.
Read Jack's novel, Rebels on the Mountain, the tale of Nick Andrews, an Army spy, who has Fidel Castro in his sights but no orders to pull the trigger. The mafia as well as the American business community in Cuba will pay a fortune for Castro's assassination, but Nick has his career to consider, his friends to protect, and a romance to sort out in the chaos of a revolution.