A personal flying history

“When once you have tasted flight,
You will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
For there you have been and there you will always long to return.”
Leonardo Da Vinci

As of November 2015 I am now a licensed private pilot – in the USA at least. And you can read all about it here!

It is common knowledge to my friends that I do love airports and airplanes. I love to travel; for me the flight is a part of the thrill of exploration and it starts at the airport surrounded by the joy of greeting, the sadness of farewell and the amazing coordination required to load an airplane and get it airborne.

The beginning

I was 13 before I first flew anywhere. But that never stopped me from making my Dad take me to the airport to do a little plane spotting; Heathrow when there was a visitor’s gallery; Manchester when it was still known as Ringway and Birmingham, where I was born close to Elmdon, now Birmingham International.

It was at Christmas in 1970 that I flew for the first time. My Dad, who was only 38 then, had accepted a job with Cadbury in Nigeria. He had already been there for some months and my mother was to take the three children to Lagos to visit him for the first time.

Our plane was a Nigeria Airways 707, via Kano to Lagos, and it was already running almost 24 hours late, so we were put up over night at the Skyways Airport Hotel. It was a dump. Beds were not made from the previous guests. 3 kids and my long suffering mother, all in the same room.

For five years to 1975 I would fly to Lagos for Christmas and the Summer trying to find whatever complicated route I could to try different airlines.

The non stop flights were operated by Nigeria Airways and the newly formed British Caledonian Airways that arose from the merger of Caledonian and British United. One of the first flights I took was on a VC-10.

Then it became ever more exotic. UTA from Paris with a stop at Ougadougou, a Swissair Coronado from Zurich, KLM from Amsterdam and Lufthansa through Frankfurt.

My favourite – and it must have driven my parents to despair – was when fog at Heathrow meant I could not catch my Lufthansa connection; so it was a KLM hop to Amsterdam to connect to a Nigeria Airways flight which then decided it was going only from Paris Le Bourquet, so an Air France Caravelle to Orly and across town to Le Bourguet and onto Kano and Lagos – arriving about 36 hours late; in the same clothes but with my baggage on the plane and the company’s fixer there to meet me at the Ikeja airport in Lagos! Amazing.

That was about it – school was in England; the big holidays were in Nigeria; there was one charter flight on a school half term to Alicante, Benidorm; Britannia Airways from Luton I think.

Then it was time to head to University; holidays were spent working; Europe was a ferry ride away. And in Europe catching the train was the choice of the student traveler. Sleeping overnight on the train saved a fortune in hotel rooms.

And so to work in London and more studying….and exotic new year stockcounts of sanitary equipment or subway rides across London to my favourite insurance company. I covered lots of miles; all in my car!

I do remember traveling on an old BEA Trident once and sitting in the front row facing the rest of the passengers; like a cabin crew in their jump seat; very strange.

And then I was offered a secondment to Australia. Four months in Sydney and I could choose how to get there as long as the fare cost no more than the British Airways APEX fare. So it was onto Garuda from Gatwick to Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Jakarta, Denpasar, Melbourne and into Sydney. About 38 hours. But the return allowed me to stop and stay in Bali, Singapore, take a train to Penang and onto Bangkok and then fly home from Bangkok. Wonderful; except for dreadful sunburn on my feet in Bali.

Upgraded to Business

It was Reuters that got me truly traveling. What a great opportunity. Just listed on the London and New York stock exchanges; the company was beginning to grow rapidly and globally. And it was in 1985 that I first flew to Bahrain; all the major European and Asian airlines had to refuel in the Middle East – the old 747-200s did not have the non stop range of the later 400s. And the Bahrain hotels loved the cabin crews; pretty girls by the pool or at the evening buffets always helped business.

And even better – this was work and business class travel ! Starting with a lovely Gulf Air Tristar to Bahrain. Then there were regular flights to Chicago on British Airways and TWA – I used to like TWA; Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong for the first time in 1986 (still a truly wonderful place to visit); Pan American and British to New York; even better on the newly launched Virgin Atlantic in Upper Class to Newark; Singapore Air to Singapore and Sydney; Qantas longhaul back to the UK including a 747-SP out of Brisbane; and assorted European trips on British Airways and SwissAir.

It was also a time to start flying for vacation. I vaguely remember a CalAir flight to Palma. And there were flights to the US east and west coast. A TWA 747 across the USA with the nicest of cabin crews.

I got to know a company in Canada (Toronto) a little too well and was asked to move there in 1988. The first time I flew there (BA-747-200) in Feb 2007 it was -21C on landing. Another flight was on an Air Canada Tristar the morning after a very long Burns Night party. My neighbour insisted we both had Chivas immediately after take-off and the crew said we should keep the bottle through the flight. Those were the days!

Toronto was a great place to live; it was still a bit staid in 1988 but the city grew and the downtown developed as a place of work and leisure. Initially flights to and from London were on Air Canada or British Airways. But as Wardair started a scheduled service using A310s they became my preferred airline.

Holidays were on Canada’s great fleet of charter carriers; a Wardair 747 to Ixtapa, Mexico with steaks served on real china even in economy; Worldways 727 to Costa Rica via Miami; Odyssey International 757 to Antigua; Canada 3000 to the UK; Nationair to the UK – on one trip returning via Newcastle and Quebec (it was terrible). A Mexican charter, Tasco (??) to Play del Carmen on a flight that seemed to last forever. QuebecAir to Montreal; Canadian Airlines (the successor to Canadian Pacific) cross country and to Whitehorse. Air North in a DC3 from Juneau to Whitehorse. Alaskan Airlines out of Juneau into Sitka and Anchorage. A little Cessna 172 around Mt McKinley from Talkeetna in Alaska.

There was a Royal Airways 727 that had an engine explosion on take off from St Petersburg in Florida. That made for a very quiet and nervous cabin.

And so to Asia

And then it was back to Asia. Initially on holiday in 1994 with my first trip to Japan and to China. Japan Airlines to Tokyo and onto Beijing. A old Tupulev 154 on China Northwest to Guilin and back to Shanghai. Onto Tunxi and then on a Yunnan AIr 737 to Guangzhou and a train to Hong Kong.

A few months later I was back in HKG for work; and with a regional responsibility the air miles started to rack up very quickly. In those days Singapore Air still handed out little gifts to its Business Class passengers; something different each month. And Cathay Pacific was still flying its lovely Tristars on regional routes.

Cathay Pacific became my home airline for three years. Then I moved to Singapore in late 1997 and spent two years mainly on Singapore Airlines before returning to Hong Kong in early 2000 for a couple of years.

From Hong Kong Cathay would take me to Tokyo, Seoul, India, SIngapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Australia and New Zealand. There were regular flights back to see head office in London. DragonAir flew me to Beijing and Shanghai. I knew one of the captains quite well and if he was flying he would let me jump seat.

In 1998 Kai Tak closed and the Hong Kong airport moved to Chep Lap Kok. I flew up from Singapore to join thousands watching the last day of flights at Kai Tak; and then flew back to SIngapore on the first flight out to SIN on the opening day of the new airport. I always felt that a part of Hong Kong died that day.

It was not always CX and SQ for regional flying; there was the Aeroflot Il 86 from Delhi to Bangkok; with tattooed flight attendants, both the boys and the girls.

Some regional flying around India – Alliance Airlines, low cost and low maintenance, and far more enjoyably on Jet Airways. ANA from Beijing to Tokyo.

Vacation flights were made on United to Japan and onto Honolulu. There were a number of round the world trips with the one world and star alliance networks. Taking Alex as a young child was always memorable. There was a Cathay flight where the crew took him to first class never to be seem until the end of the flight. He was a very happy baby. Then too much orange juice and cheese on a Qantas flight. Cleaning up after that would be a challenge.

A round the world flight at the end of 2001 took in Thai Airways, Air Canada, Mexicana, United, Varig, and Lufthansa.

There was a Continental 777 long haul from HKG to Newark that depressurised about 25 minutes after take-off. Oxygen masks down; an emergency descent, and an overweight landing back into HKG.

Then in 2002 it was time to move to Thailand. There were annual trips to Vancouver; usually on Cathay through Hong Kong; frighteningly quiet during the SARS crisis; and also holiday trips with Alex to Europe. Thai flight attendants doing magic tricks entertained Alex far more than the man with the smelliest feet ever known on board an airplane.

Living in Thailand I made full use of the new low cost airlines in Thailand, and to Singapore, Macau and Rangoon – with lots of flights on Thai Air Asia; Tiger and Jetstar. Thai Air Asia made weekends away very affordable. Bangkok Airways were more upmarket and flew me to Luang Prabang, Samui and Siem Reap. Valuair flew to Bangkok for a while before they merged with Jetstar. Valuair’s on board aerobics were truly annoying. One-Two-Go started low cost flights in Thailand with 757s before they acquired some old MD80s. Sadly safety concerns proved to be very real.

And on to the Middle East

It is over 23 years since I first came to the Middle East – and here I am again. Bahrain has been overshadowed by the mighty growth of Dubai. Emirates is becoming one of the world’s largest and most influential airlines and of course Tai is flying with them. I still don’t like 10 across seating on a 777. Not for a 16 hour flight to Los Angeles.

EK has now introduced the A380 into service – and I have flown it to London, New York and Bangkok in 2009. It is a wonderfully quiet airplane. Spacious. Sitting on the lower deck you really have no idea that there are 130 people above you in business and first class.

So that brings the flying history up to date; lots of meals; plenty of flying; a few friends; a few scares. But the pleasure of traveling never goes away. The sense of awe as these massive beasts get off the ground is still there. The professionalism of the crews always impresses and a smile will always go a very long way.

And yes I did try to learn to fly

My attempt to learn to fly was doomed: my only flying lesson was on 11 September 2001 in Florida. A year later I wrote the following on the news pages of this site:

“Where were you on September 11th?

10 September 2002

I remember only too well where I was as the attacks on America took place. I was at 1,000 feet turning right to start a circuit at Kissimmee Airport in Florida on my first and as it turned out only flying lesson.

I have always wanted to learn how to fly. I had the time. And I had enrolled in a Flying School in Florida. There were no backgrounds checks, not in those days. I provided my credit card details. The school booked accommodation and lessons.

The trip was fated from the start. Climbing out of Hong Kong on Continental’s non stop flight to Newark the plane had a cabin depressurisation at about 28,000 feet. It was eerie. It was quiet. It was not an explosive decompression. There was just a silence. The plane dived to a lower altitude. People (too slowly) put on their oxygen masks. But everything was working; there were no holes in the plane. The engines were still turning. We leveled off.

The pilot (who had presumably changed his trousers and negotiated with ATC in Hong Kong and Guangzhou) advised that a valve had failed, that we would dump fuel for at least 75 minutes (we were meant to be flying over 16 hours non stop) and that we would return to HKG.

So United flew me to Orlando the following day.

Kissimmee was foggy on the Monday. The only flying was IFR. No use to me. My first lesson was booked for 9.00am on Tuesday 11 September. I walked out to the plane with my Norwegian instructor. We checked the plane. My mobile rang. I did not pick it up; I switched it off. Did not want the distraction. It turned out to be a friend calling form New York to warn me what was happening.

We taxi-ed to the end of Runway 15. Took off. Climbed and turned. And ATC tells all planes to land immediately as US airspace was now closed. He explains to another pilot on an open frequency that a plane has hit the world trade center.

We landed. Tied the little Cessna down. And went to watch TV in the lounge at the FBO. The room was full with instructors and want to be pilots; people taking multi-engine and commercial licenses. Everyone knew that the industry they loved would never be the same again.

The school was closed all week. All the Florida flying schools know each other and by the end of the week all were helping with records of past students.

That weekend a hurricane blew through Orlando. It was time to go home. The dream is postponed. Indeed the dream may even be cancelled. The magic of flying became a nightmare that day.

As I flew back through Newark on another stunning Autumn day this was the view from the aiport – six days after the attack the fires were still burning and the smoke still hung over the city.

Let us hope that on tomorrow’s anniversary we can all mourn or reflect in peace.”

That was almost eight years ago now. Time moves on; memories remain. Flying has been good to me; I have been lucky enough to see a lot of the world; there is always more that I want to see and experience. The world may be smaller; but every time I travel I feel I maybe understand it a little bit better. I always learn and experience something new.

A huge thank you to the flight deck crews who have put up with my questions and curiosity; always with humour and a real pleasure in what they do; and to the cabin crews who have fed, watered, and entertained me. Some have become friends past and present; and I am very proud of one special Emirates crew who has my heart each and every day.

Airlines I have flown

Aeroflot – Il-86
Air Asia – 737, A320
Air Bagan – F100, ATR
Air Canada – L1011, 747, 320, 767
Air China – 767
Air France – Caravelle
Air India – A310
Air North – DC3
Air Southwest – ATR42
Air Transat – 757, L1011
Alaskan – 737
Allegiant Air – MD 80
Alliance Airways – 737
ANA – 747, 777, 787
Ansett International – 747-300
American Airlines – MD80
Asiana – 767
Austrian Airways – 767, A321
Bangkok Airways – ATR, A320, A319
Britannia Airways – 737
British Airways – 747, 737, 777
British Caledonian – 707, VC10
Cal Air – DC10
Canada 3000 – 757
Canadian International – DC10, 767
Cathay Pacific – L1011, 747, A330, A340
China Airlines – 747
China Southern – 777
China Eastern A340
China Southwest – T154
Delta – CRJ, 757
DragonAir – A330, A320
Easyjet – 737, A320, A319
Emirates Airline – 777, A330, A380, A340
Etihad Airways – 777
EVA Airline – 747 A330
Garuda – 747
Gulf Air – L1011, A340
Harmony Airways – 757
Hawaiian – F100
Inter-Canadian – F100
Japan Airlines – 747, 767
Jet Airways – 737
JetBlue – A320
Jetstar Asia – A320
Jetstar Japan – A320
Kenya Airways – 767
Lufthansa – 747,737, A346
Malaysian Airlines 737
Mexicana – ?
NationAir – 757
Nigeria Airways – 707
Nok Air – 737-800
One-Two-Go – 757
Odyssey International – 757
Pan American 747
Qantas – 747, 737
Qatar Airways – A321, A330, A340, A350, A380, 787
Royal Airlines – 727
RyanAir – 737
SAS, 737
Siam General Aviation – Cessna Caravan
Silk Air – A320
Singapore Airways – 747, 777, A340
SouthWest Airlines – 737
Swissair – C880, A340
Thai Airways – 777, 747, A300, A340, A330, 737
Thai Air Asia A320, 737
Thai Lion Air, 737
Tiger Airlines – A320
TWA 747
Turkish Airlines – MD80
United Airlines – 747, 777, 757
UTA – DC10
Valuair – A320
Vanguard – 727
Varig – 777
Thai Vietjet, A321, A320
Vietnam Airways – 777 A320
Virgin Atlantic – 747
Virgin Blue – 737
Wardair – 747, A310
Westjet – 737
Worldways – 727, L1011
Yunnan Airlines – 737

Nigeria Airways 707 at Southend in 1973 – Airliners.net


TWA Tristar in 1977

Wardair at Gatwick – 1980s

Odyssey in Toronto in 1989

Cathay Pacific at Kai Tak – old colours

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak

Emirates leaving LAX for Dubai

Emirates A380 – it really is a pleasure to fly on this plane

Other aviation pages on rascott.com

Emirates watch – keeping up to date with news from the Middle East’s largest airline
Dubai’s other airlines – anything that is unusual!
Low Cost Flying – a summary of the low cost airline of Asia, UK and the Middle East
Bangkok’s new airport – reporting on the opening in 2006.
The golf course at Bangkok’s old airport
Some flight reports

Old airlines
British Caledonian Reunited
British Caledonian history
Pan American history
Pan American – famous passengers and pictures
TWA history
CP Air – Canadian Pacific
Pan Am Historical Foundation

Youtube links
Cathay Pacific

Other links
Sharjah Airport in the 1930s
Aviation.ca – Canadian aviation resources

Failed airlines of Canada.
Opening an airline in Canada and taking on the mighty Air Canada is a risky proposition at best. Here are links to some of the failed airlines of Canada.

Air BC · Air Canada Tango · Air Nova · Air Ontario · Canada 3000 · Canada West Airlines · Canadian Airlines · Canadian Airways · Canadian Colonial Airways · Canadian Pacific Airlines · City Express · Harmony Airways · Inter-Canadien · Jetsgo · Odyssey International · Pacific Western Airlines · Quebecair · Roots Air · Royal Aviation · Transair · Trans-Canada Air Lines · Trans-Provincial Airlines · Triton Airlines · Wardair · Worldways Canada · World-Wide Airways ·Zip

Airline Magazines

The Australian Way – QANTAS
Fah Thai – Bangkok Airways
Tiger Tales – Tiger Airways
En Route – Air Canada
Open Skies – Emirates