Hi everyone. I am posting this on Christmas Eve, and I hope that you will allow me some personal reflection in this edition. During the 58 years I have been on this planet, I have been associated with the airline industry in all 58 of those years either through Dad’s employment with Continental or my own almost 35 years of airline employment at Delta and for the last 15+ years, Southwest. That’s a lot of airline Christmases.
One thing you learn when you enter the industry is that this is our busiest time of year. If you are on the frontlines, most often you will work major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day until you build up some seniority. Because it is such a busy travel time, standby travel is a challenge at best during the holidays, and Employees only travel if there is an empty seat. During the 19 Christmases while I was at my former carrier, my wife and I lived away from family for most of those occasions. We only spent two Christmas Days with our family during that time, and we had to return home each time late on Christmas Day because that was when there were seats available on what is a slow travel day.
Even though we didn’t try traveling over Christmas, we were able to come home near Christmas. For ten of those years we lived in Portland, and the local “Made in Oregon” shops provided us with the taste of the Northwest for our gifts to my parents. Tina’s parents lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was even more difficult to reach, Since I have been with Southwest, we have stayed close to home with one exception: The only Christmas Tina spent in Fort Wayne was her mother’s last.
My airline Christmas memories wouldn’t be complete without a mention of mail, since at one time, commercial airlines were primary haulers of the US Mail. Unless you worked on the ramp in the era before e-mail, texting, and social media, you have no idea of what the mail volume was like between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You would load 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of mail (or more if time and space permitted) on a flight and that wouldn’t even make a dent in the outbound mail volume. At large airports, carts filled with mail would just sit until a flight had enough bin room to accommodate some of it. The Postal Service would scramble to find extra aircraft to carry mail. I remember one Christmas in Portland when I arrived at the Airport Mail Facility and saw three piston-powered Douglas DC-6 freighters from Alaska picking up mail.
Then about a week before Christmas, the flood reduced to a trickle, and the backlog would disappear. Still, mail from procrastinators would always be late. It saddened me to load mail late in the day on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day in the knowledge that it would arrive too late at its destination.
For those who know me, the next Christmas revelation will come as no surprise. My dad was transferred to Los Angeles after I had finished fourth grade. That was a seminal point in the development of my “airline geekiness,” because I discovered all the facts contained in books about my favorite subject, airplanes. I quickly devoured the literary offerings in the Center Street School library like Aircraft of the Navy, and I knew there was more. Soon I found out about legendary English aviation authors like Gordon Swanborough and William Green and the incredible aircraft books they were compiling.
My best friend, Herb Jewell, had a copy of the most amazing aviation book that I had ever seen, Green’s The Observer’s World Aircraft Directory. From front to back, it contained a listing of every military air arm in the world and the type of aircraft they flew, a short description of the world’s airlines and their fleet types, a section on military aircraft insignia, a section on aircraft engines, then a comprehensive listing of probably 85 percent of the aircraft types flying in the world. I think the price was $3.95—a large sum in 1962. For Christmas, that book was my own “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle,” and I had to have it. Unlike Ralphie’s parents, my mom and dad didn’t have to worry about the book putting my eyes out—and I didn’t have to face a scary Santa with scarier elves. My book is still a prized possession in my library, a time capsule from the airlines’ transition into the jet age.
What was your best “aviation” Christmas? Let us know in the comments below. The Blog Team wishes all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Because so many of you are off doing fun things, we will be taking the next week off for new posts for the most part. There probably will be one or two posts for New Year's Eve, and we will continue to moderate your comments thoughout the week, so keep posting. Enjoy the photo below from a Christmas Past.