Up in the air about being up in the air

Melvyn Magree

I am not sure when I was first in an airplane, but I am sure when I was last in an airplane.  Some of the trips I’ve long forgotten; other I find it hard to forget.

I think my first airplane trip was in a Capitol Airlines DC-3 when I was between nine and twelve.  It was out of Cleveland to either Chicago or Detroit.  Probably Chicago because my father’s parents lived in Maywood.  But I remember more taking the train there once or twice.

My second flight was in a Ford Trimotor from Put-in-Bay in Lake Erie.  The Scoutmaster was good at picking sites for a week-long summer camp, and Put-in-Bay was high on his list.  I don’t know if I had a flight back to the mainland or just a tourist loop.  That airline ceased operations in 1985, but there are still some Trimotors flying, including one in the Port Clinton OH museum.

I don’t remember any flights until the summer between my junior and senior years of college.  I had a summer job at Ohio Oil (Marathon).  They were considering upgrading their IBM 650 with a Burroughs among others.  For some reason the group visiting Burroughs took me along, but this was no ordinary trip.

Ohio Oil had one of the largest private air fleets in the world.  We would not be driving or flying commercial from Findlay OH to Detroit.  We would be flying in a company DC-3.  But we couldn’t leave the ground until we had clearance to land in Detroit.  That was over 45 minutes on the runway in the summer in an airplane without air-conditioning.  By the time we got into the limos at Detroit, I was very glad to sit in the front with the air-conditioning going full-blast in my face.  I think I managed to keep everything down.
In graduate school and at Univac I took many air trips over the next seven years.  At Univac, several of us did our best to schedule trips on Caravelles; they were all first class.  An incident that stands out was on the approach to Minneapolis-St. Paul the plane (model forgotten) suddenly became climbing.  The pilot announced that another plane didn’t get off the runway on time.  My wife had a more scary time.  She was waiting for me and saw the airplane suddenly swoop up.

Then I spent six years with many trips all over western Europe.  One time I went to the wrong airport in Milan and had to take an overnight train instead.  One time in Paris Orly was socked in by fog.  The airline didn’t keep passengers up-to-date.  Finally, they let us send a free telegram.  I sent one to my wife in Rome.  Later, I think they let us make a phone call.  Later yet, they bussed us into Paris to stay in a hotel.  The next day I was back in Rome eating lunch with my family when my telegram about my delay arrived.

One memorable sight in Rome was standing on the ground watching a 747 overhead.  Would I really want to fly on such a humongous plane?

When we lived in Stockholm we took some vacation flights, mostly in ski season.  A warmer flight was to the island of Rhodes.  I flew direct to Rhodes, but my wife had gone to Athens with her mother.  When they were in the air leaving Athens, Black September attacked the airport, killing at least three.

When we came back to the States, I continued flying wherever for Univac.  Sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly, and sometimes by my own design.  I somehow managed to go to most Univac user conferences and several professional association conferences.  I even got a trip back to Europe to give a presentation in Madrid and used vacation time to visit Ireland.  Yep, lots of Magrees/McGrees in Kilkenny, but none provably related to me.

When I started my own company, I managed to scrape together money to fly to conferences or to take a few ski trips.  Sometimes I took my early Macintosh with me.  That now big bulky thing was designed to fit under a airline seat.  And it did, and then it did not; signs of coming changes.

Our first flight to Japan was to visit our son who was teaching there.  In coach we were almost treated as royalty, on an American plane!  Seating was something like 2-3-2 or 2-4-2.  We had seats by an emergency door and had plenty of leg room.

Our second flight was out of Chicago with Japan Air.  We didn’t have as much leg room but we did have excellent service.  The worst part was all the hubbub at Narita Airport to find the right place to checkin and all the restaurants that had prices posted in Japanese numbers.
Our third and my hoped for last flight was a multiple leg trip without much legroom - Minneapolis to Toronto to pick up my mother-in-law.  To Chicago to pick up a U.S. airline.  To Tokyo for a wonderful time for all.  Reverse all that for the return.  With the 3-5-3 seating I had it with flying.  And I said so.

Then we get a Christmas present to fly to Las Vegas and drive on to Heavenly Valley.  OK, daughter, I’ll accept.  We had good time, but that was the last time I flew.

Since then, my wife has flown to Japan three times and expects to do so several more times.  Whenever I think about it, I get a squeezed feeling in my shoulders and restless leg syndrome.

When Mel wrote this he was sitting at home while his wife flew off to visit her sisters.