Bangkok, last summer, written during the Qatar Airways flights, reminiscing about the posher days of air travel in the 1960s & 1970s

This was written in August 2015 onboard a Qatar Airways duo of flights, shortly after a bomb had killed some worshippers at a shrine in Bangkok, as we were heading there for what was another fabulous Thai holiday. The next one is just weeks away…..

Well, it’s got travel in the title and that what’s happening now. I am reminded of 1976, a summer holiday trip as a sixteen year old to America for its Bicentennial and my dad, fairly well travelled by that time, saying that he never imagined as a child in the 1930s/1940s that he would ever travel on an aircraft. I think he said it during that fight, also confessing to his earlier fears of leaving his seat during a flight in case it upset the balance of the aircraft and threw it into freefall spin.

This was an escape from the great drought of 1976 and should have been  a flight to Toronto which got diverted to Detroit or somewhere nearby because the Canadian air traffic controllers were refusing to speak English in the lead up to the Montreal Olympics, and international  flights were all diverted into USA airports. We travelled under police escort in coaches to Toronto (only for us then to double back on ourselves as we were heading to Ohio for 4 July Bicentennial celebrations). I have always been a fan of protest, quite liking that the air traffic controllers were using the summer Olympics to protest – a bit of a fail though as I think they still have to land those iron birds in English.

Oh now, it’s the third flight of the year east. I live in East London and like being east so much that travel plans usually head in that direction too. Why change what is good?

The event of travel has changed so much. It really was a big deal then. In the 1960s, as a child, I would get a new outfit for a flight to the USA. So would my mum – I have a recollection of her at Heathrow, back in the day when it was called London Airport, in a dress and matching coat, looking not unlike Jackie Kennedy (before she was Onassis). There was a large silver purple stoned brooch which set off the orange and purple striped dress (I still have the brooch). So, looking like we were dressed as guests at a wedding, we would get onto our Pan Am, TWA or Aer Lingus flights. 

The Aer Lingus flights stopped off in Shannon, famous back in the day for its duty free hall, huge blocks of Kerrygold cheese and smoked bacon. I expect it did a line in alcohol too, but I have no recollection (and probably had no idea what alcohol was then – gasp; who can believe that?). I recall a Pan Am flight where mum asked for an orange juice for me and they said that orange juice was reserved for vodka-orange cocktails. Glad they went bust, payback for denying me a juice. I think they gave me 5 cigarettes with my inflight meal though – I mean, I was about seven or eight. It wasn’t a special children’s meal, just the regular meal which came with five fags for everyone.

So, back to now. You travel in comfy clothes, you do not dress up, you pray unsuccessfully to the upgrade gods as you queue to check in, unless you are checking into that once a year Christmas treat flight that you have cashed in all your air miles for plus paid a top up fortune to travel club class, and go through the ordeal of mad security overkill airports, seeking an hour or two of escape in an airport lounge with a bit of gin and some olives, assaulted by shopping opportunities that tempt you to give up your hard earned for a premium brand handbag at 20% discount. You have been at work all day before you get to the airport, doing your holiday notes for your colleagues, keeping your fingers crossed that there is not a work crisis that day as your fuzzy brain didn’t get to bed until at least 2.30am the evening before as you packed and went round the house switching off various appliances that you think will otherwise spontaneously combust, hoping the Piccadilly Line will not fail you, sending last minute texts to neighbours in the hope that they will keep a better eye on the house than the emergency service linked burglar alarm can do.

And then, you step onto the aircraft, entering the world of well groomed and shiny aircrew, finding the bijou space which will be yours for the next 6, 8 or 12 hours. Depending upon the quality of the airline you have got your deal on, you may get a copy of Hello Magazine or a hot towel before takeoff or a boiled sweetie. Perhaps a glass of champagne or some Armagnac after dinner. Or not.

And, 16 hours later, after a short stop in Doha, you’ll be there, the City of Smiles, Bangkok, just a few days after the city was rocked by a major bomb blast. As ever, we are thrilled and privileged to arrive here.

Friday 12 August 2016

In a surreal twist, having delayed posting this by almost a year, yesterday and today there have been more bombs, causing death and injury in Thailand. My thoughts are with the affected. The country’s tourist economy will be rocked still further. A real catastrophe in a country where tourism supports a significant percentage of the population and their families.
I am still looking forward to five days in Thailand in the next few weeks. Others will be put off though.

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