Reliving Airline History
In 1968 Continental Airlines (Houston) had a small problem. Its relatively new Boeing 720Bs were sitting idle each Saturday night at O’Hare International Airport (ORD), normally a slow period for air travel. The company had an idea. Eager to introduce its new “Proud Bird with the Golden Tail” brand (actually introduced in March 1967 with the first Boeing 727 for Air Micronesia) to encourage more flyers, the company had the idea of offering 45-minute “romantic champagne flights over Chicago” charter flights on the idle Boeing 720Bs. The best part was the price – only $10 for the first passenger and $5 for each additional member of the party. It was a hit with the public.
Marshall Massengale seized the opportunity and invited a classroom date for the “romantic” flight.
“This would have been spring of 1968 and followed closely on the heels of Continental changing their logo and livery to the so-called “meatball” color scheme. The actual aircraft I flew on was in the old “Golden Jet” (1962) livery, though I had hoped to see the new one.
The flight was a scene from the 1970 blockbuster movie hit “Airport” starring Burt Lancaster, Jacqueline Bisset and Dean Martin. My date and I boarded the Boeing 720B through the aft jetway, the aircraft having been parked parallel to the terminal rather than nosed in. This was the fashion in those days with United, Continental, Eastern and other heavily unionized carriers for whom it may have been more cost-effective to have their jets exit the ramp under their own power rather than to have to maintain union mechanics to “push out” from a nosed in gate position. By contrast, Delta and American nosed in their jets at ORD to single point, non-pivotal short jetways. Of course, Delta had to use the traditional exposed, lower level ramp boarding areas at ORD for its Douglas DC-6s, DC-7s and Convair 440 aircraft. United, at least, was able to use extendable, pivotal jetways to reach prop planes such as their DC-6s and DC-6Bs and even their Viscounts, although most of the time, lower level boarding was the rule more so than the exception.
My date and I were issued regular single flight tickets which were placed in the standard Continental boarding pass ticket jacket marked on the outside in the ubiquitous Litho black grease pencil with gate and boarding time in the manner demonstrated in “Airport”.
I was, of course, intimately familiar with the standard boarding procedures, but my date was not. It was all new to her but she took it all in stride and exuded an enthusiasm that reminded me of my first passenger flight experience. In short, I delighted in all of this, knowing I had given my friend her first commercial airline flight experience. I was very much conscious of the fact she would never forget this experience and was aware that were she ever to be asked about her first flight on a plane, this would be the time she would recall for the rest of her life.
We managed to draw a window and center seat together on the port side in the coach section of the aircraft aft of the wings which afforded a wonderful view of the city. I remembered how she gripped my arm as the aircraft accelerated on take off but relaxed once airborne. Thereafter, she delighted in the wonder of the illuminated nighttime panorama that unfolded beneath us. The flight took us through a number of turns over the sprawling metropolis of Chicago, the sparkling flood of bright city lights ending abruptly against the curving, midnight black silhouette of Lake Michigan.
All too soon, it seemed, the flight was over. It was the only time I dated this particular classmate of mine, but I never forgot the experience and never regretted the time we spent together on that magical evening. Knowing I had been able to give someone something special that she would find worth remembering for a lifetime provided its own reward and it has warmed me through the years.”
Thank you Marshall for your fond recollections of this special flight.
Do you have a personal recollection of a special airline flight? This new special Reliving Airline History feature will occasionally highlight airline service from the past, an era now long gone in this airline news blog. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the ad in the local Chicago newspaper announcing the special Continental Airlines champagne flights (courtesy of Marshall Massengale):