In July of 1963, I was among a number of midshipmen who were transported from Norfolk, Virginia, to Corpus Christi, Texas, aboard an olive drab World War II vintage cargo plane; we sat in web slings hanging from the port and starboard bulkheads with our gear strapped down along the plane's midline. Needless to say, no door separated the bay area from the cockpit and a flight attendant was nowhere to be found . . . but then neither was expected.
That memory came forth from the recesses of my mind last week when I boarded the twin engine, propeller driven plane that would soon whisk (I use the term loosely) me from Saint John, New Brunswick, to Halifax, Nova Scotia (the first leg of my missionary journey to St. John's, Newfoundland). The plane was small - "How small?" you ask. Well, let me try to explain.
While checking in, I asked the kind lady at the ticket counter (who also doubled as the baggage screener - the size of the airport matched the size of the plane) if I could have either an aisle seat or a window seat. Her response was very curious, "You have both." Not wanting to be perceived as a less than savvy traveler, I gave a nod of understanding and let the comment pass unchallenged. However, her second curious statement got this old man's attention, "The plane has no facilities so be prepared." "Ma'am, does that mean what I think it means?" "Yes; the men's room is to your left." Minutes after finishing my preparations, the same kind lady changed hats and locations to announce that the flight was boarding. She dutifully scanned the ticket she had issued moments earlier, again checked my passport and then pointed me to the line of sixteen folks cued up on the tarmac.
Unlike the young man standing beside the three steps leading into the plane, I was unprepared (though otherwise prepared) for the cold, biting wind sweeping across the bare landscape. He stood at his post, mute and motionless, hands tucked deep inside the pockets of a black overcoat, the collar of which was turned up to cover the gap between his neck and his hat. Once aboard my seat was not hard to find - there were only nine rows with one seat on each side of a center aisle; the overhead compartment for my carryon bag was also not hard to find - there wasn't one.
The young man followed me aboard, pulled the steps up behind him (they doubled as the plane's door), stowed his overcoat and hat behind a webbing, faced the passengers, and asked, "Is everyone ready?" The question was rhetorical for he quickly turned and seated himself in the cockpit (he doubled as flight attendant and co-pilot). I briefly waited for the plane's intercom to give the customary announcements about oxygen masks, exit lighting and life vests but, after scanning the cabin, realized there was no need; neither was there a need to turn off portable electronic devices - the plane would be flown by hand. I checked the pocket on the seatback in front of me - the white paper bag it contained was a bit disconcerting. As the plane rolled down the runway, the co-pilot/flight attendant turned around (his voice doubled as the intercom) to announce the obvious, "We're taking off!"
A hop, skip and a jump later I was savoring the advantages of my window/aisle seat: looking to my right I could watch the copilot's every move; looking to my left beneath the prop I could see the sea birds and the beautiful scenery along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The flight was a scant thirty minutes and offered no beverage service - this was a double blessing given the absence of facilities (though, being prepared, I would have welcomed a stiff shot of something). Upon landing in Halifax, the co-pilot/flight attendant donned his overcoat and hat, opened the door/steps, announced "Watch your head!" and assumed his position outside for yet another battle with the elements, seemingly oblivious to the hustle and bustle associated with the arrivals and departures taking place at this major transportation hub. He appeared to be content, so much so that I believe he would have enjoyed a similar role fifty years ago . . . had he been born then.
In His Power and for His Glory,