Thank you for Flying… TWA

By Tommy Almgren

Flying is an amazing thing. We are sure you agree with that. However there are many different ways of flying. In this column the emphasis will be on the great diversity in service offered by airlines throughout the world. We assume all our readers are airline fanatics and some of you have already had the opportunity to fly quite some miles. Therefore, together we form an interesting group of critics when it comes to airlines and service.

This column appears in Aerlines on a regular base and gives all you critics out there the chance to share your experiences, good and bad, while flying any airline in the world, with all Aerius-members. The editors would like to stress that the given opinion is a personal one.

2 JUL 97 TW819  CDG-STL
18 JUL 97 TW409  STL-TUL
20 JUL 97 TW100  TUL-STL
2 AUG 97 TW591  STL-MSP
4 AUG 97 TW515  MSP-STL
15 AUG 97 TW546  STL-LGA
16 AUG 97 TW211  LGA-STL
23 AUG 97 TW484  STL-DCA
24 AUG 97 TW209  DCA-STL
31 AUG 97 TW001  STL-HNL
4 SEP 97 TW002  HNL-STL
5 SEP 97 TW223  STL-SFO
10 SEP 97 TW842  SFO-JFK
11 SEP 97 TW 14  JFK-SJU
14 SEP 97 TW145  SJU-STL
14 SEP 97 TW722  STL-LGW

Class: Coach   (Economy)

Having tried unsuccessfully to secure a work placement with an airline, in the course of my studies, I was delighted to find out that my school had a roundabout connection with Trans World Airlines in St. Louis Missouri (if only they had told me earlier!). I practically begged and pleaded them to put in a good word for me, and in the end TWA agreed to take me on for a two-month internship after my graduation last summer!  I was ecstatic!  My first on-hands experience with an airline. Granted not the most successful one these days, but still.

The most pleasant surprise came when I received a copy of the contract. I knew I wouldn’t get paid for my efforts, but I took that as an investment in my future.  What they would give me, however, was one free air pass for every 40 hour “worked” for them!  Which explains the extensive itinerary above; all those trips cost me $0!

Since TWA no longer serves AMS, I had the choice between leaving from Paris or London.  Having visited LON several times in the past year, I opted for Paris, also to pay a good friend down there a long-postponed visit.  That visit, however, turned out to be -‘Longer than planned.  I had the misfortune of wanting to get on the plane with a non-revenue ticket at the same time as half of France was prepared to pay full fare for that same privilege! The result was that I was bumped on two consecutive days!  TWA operates to flights out of CDG daily, one to New York JFK, and one direct flight St.- Louis.  Both of them were booked solid for the last days of June, and paying passenger were even asked to give up their assigned seats in return for roundtrip free ticket to any TWA destination, and paid accommodation in Paris. I, however, was in a hurry to get to STL and start my internship, soafter two futile attempts to get  on that plane, I purchased a ticket to be sure to get there.  In the end, I was able to get on the plane four days-later than planned with my non-rev ticket, and thanks to exchange rate fluctuations, I even turned a profit of 100 guilders when I got my purchased ticket refunded!

Flying on a U.S. airline for the first time, the first thing that struck me was the average age of the FA’s, which was considerably higher than on European carriers.  Personally, I’ve always valued Professionalism over good looks, so that was fine with me. The service left me with no complaints, and also my first taste of the soon to be fami1iar peanuts/pretzels and a soft drink… After the peanuts, a choice of two main courses was offered for dinner. Close to arrival at STL, a cold snack was distributed. The standard cold snack on TWA flights comes in a small plastic bag, and consists for the most part of a small roll, a bag of potato chips, and an apple., with variations possible. The equipment between Europe and the U.S. consists for the most part of 767-300s, all painted in the new red-and-blue livery. Unlike on domestic flights, headsets for the in-flight movie and alcoholic drinks were distributed free of charge. On routes from London, Cairo, Rome, Milan, and Tell Aviv, two feature films are shown. The first a reasonably recent box office release, the second a classic. Eight audio channels feature a variety of music, as well as a news/debate program.

After a couple of weeks in St. Louis, the desire to take advantage of my free passes became stronger (go live in St.- Louis for two weeks and you’ll know why!), so I went to visit a friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The weather that weekend was appalling, with severe thunderstorms in the Chicago area, resulting in heavy delays, also affecting my flight to TU’L, which came through from New York and Cleveland. After one hour delay, however, we took off for a very pleasant one-hour flight to Tulsa. On my way back, it was Tulsa’s turn to be hit by heavy rainfall, and the arriving flight had to circle over the area for half an hour before it was given permission to land. Another hour’s delay.

Before going off on my Grand Tour at the end of my internship period, I also took a couple of weekend breaks; Minneapolis, to see the biggest shopping mall in the country (which is quite a statement for the U.S.!): The Mall of America, complete with all kinds of stores and an indoor amusement park (with a rollercoaster!) On my return from MSP I was again confronted with every non-rev traveller’s nightmare, i.e. not getting an the last flight out for the day! For no obvious reason, that Sunday night was very popular for flights from MSP to STL, and I had to see all three flights that night leave without me on board! Luckily I was referred to a hotel booking agency by a TWA agent at the airport, and only had to pay $40 for a great room at the Days Inns, including a complimentary shuttle. I was very impressed by the helpfulness of everyone I encountered, from the TWA check-in agent, to the TWA reservations agent I called to get listed on the next day’s first flight, to the receptionist at Days Inn. I knew then and there, that this is what I want in life! The only drawback with the whole experience was that I had to get up at 4 a.m. the next day to fly back, and then go straight to the office…

It was with some intrepidation that I planned the itinerary for my Grand Tour before returning to Europe.  With my MSP experience still fresh in my mind, I was hesitant to count on nearly full flights, not wanting to risk another unscheduled layover somewhere. I was especially concerned about my first flight to Honolulu, which only operates once a day, and those flight had been full all summer.  Much to my surprise, I was able to get on all the flights I had hoped.  Part of the explanation was of course that I was travelling largely after Labor Day, which is the first Monday of September, and marks the official end of summer. Schools are back in session, and high season is over.

From STL to HNL and back, I flew for the first and probably last time on a TWA 747. The oldest 747s are now around 25 years of age, and TWA judges it too costly to have them modernized for another few years of service, and has decided to retire them all by the end of the year.  They still only fly STL-HNL-STL, JFK-TLV, and JFK-FCO.  This was the longest flight since making the crossing from Europe, and after awesome approach to Honolulu passing over Waikiki and Pearl Harbor, I was quite happy to get off the plane and be greeted, by a warm and gentle breeze coming into the doorless terminal building. The weather being more or less constant in Hawaii, the terminal actually has no doors, neither airside nor streetside.

Quite apart from the sensation of actually visiting places I’d previously only dreamt of (Hawaii, Puerto Rico, San Francisco), my American vacation was a very pleasant experience.  As I mentioned, I managed to get on all the flights I wanted, and even was lucky enough to catch a connecting flight from STL to SFO after arriving from HNL with only 17 minutes transfer time! I was very impressed that after eight hours flight, the 747 from HNL arrived exactly at 8:33 AM. in STL, just as scheduled! The 8:50 to SFO left from the gate nextdoor, and I could just walk straight on. The 757 to SFO was one of the newest aircraft in TWA’s fleet, and that was obvious from the bright and modern interior with small drop-down monitors and in-flight telephones on every seat section.

The final segment of my summer’s travels was also one of the most nerve-wrecking. Not the actual flight, just the uncertainty whether I would get on the plane or not.  There was a long waitlist for both flights to London on the day I wanted to go, and it was pure gamble whether I would be able to leave that day.  I really had to get back and start sorting things out, since my postgraduate course at the University of Westminster would start exactly one week later and I still had no accommodation arranged, which is something I know to be very difficult in London.  I’d also brought all my luggage and returned the keys to my summer home, so in order to avoid more expenses for a hotel and a lot of general inconvenience, I HAD TO get on that plane!  I was recommended not even to bother with the earlier flight, so I turned up for the later one, which was reportedly fully booked, with a long waitlist. I was sitting at the edge of my seat, as more and more paying stand-by pax were called and cleared to board.  As a sort-of employee, I at least had seniority over friends and family of employees travelling on discounted passes, and that turned out to be my salvation, as I was the very last one to be cleared to board the flight!  Imagine the sign of relief as I raced down the jetway with the doors closing behind me!

The overall impression of my travels and TWA staff is that everyone has been very friendly and helpful, from the ground personnel at CDG, to the Swedish check-in agent at DCA, to the FAs. I would like to extend my thanks to them all, including all my colleagues at TWA head office in St. Louis, for making my summer truly enjoyable and memorable.

The Editors wish to thank Mr. Almgren for his kind contribution.

At the same time we extend an invitation to you to share your experiences with us. We are convinced that we will be delighted!

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