On November 1958, I left Manila for London via Hong Kong. In those days, very few people went overseas. There were about 50 people consisting of relatives, friends and business associates who saw me off at the Manila Airport. I stopped over in Hong Kong to get tailored suites and warm clothing,woollen underwear, gloves and other accessories before flying off to London, England.
During that time “common people” travelled by ship to Europe and America. Only the rich and senior executives could fly. It was the era of propeller planes, with top speed of 250 miles per hour and carrying 60 passengers, with 15 rows of two seats on each side of the aisle. This is in contrast to modern day jet planes with a cruise speed of over 600 miles per hour and a seating capacity of 450 passengers. In those days, there were no different classes. Seating was much like the economy class of today, except there was more leg room and the service was excellent.
The propeller plane had a limited flying distance and had lengthy stop-overs for re-fuelling and picking up passengers. To get to London from Hong Kong the airplane made numerous stops. From my recollection -- starting from Hong Kong, we stopped at Saigon, Bangkok, Rangoon, Bombay, New Delhi, Cairo, Beirut, Bahrain, Rome and finally London. It was exciting to visit all these places. It was like my geography class coming alive. The flight time was very long, maybe 36 hours in the air. In contrast today’s commercial flight for the same route would take 16 hours. All I remember was after lunch we had a snack, then dinner, then breakfast and then lunch again. We flew past so many time zones in that trip.
All the airports we stopped by were small and austere, not the large, multi-level complex of today’s international airports that require trains and long hallways to move from one terminal to another. There were no shopping mall inside the airports, and neither were there restaurants or fast-food outlets.
Most of the passengers were Caucasian businessmen. The passenger next to me was a young Chinese from Hong Kong on his way to England to be trained as merchant marine. It was good that I had somebody to chat with during the very lengthy flight.
I remember two things about that long trip. There were U.S. marines carrying guns in the Beirut airport to intervene in the 1958 Lebanon conflict between Christians and Muslims. It was quite scary as I had flashbacks to the horrors during the World War II in Manila when I was a child.
The other incident was an announcement by the airplane captain for us to look down as we flew over Athens. We saw the ruins of the arena of ancient Greece. Half a century later, my wife and I were on a cruise of the Greek Isles and went to that arena where we posed as if we were in a race.
|A crowd showed up to see my dad (center, in the suit and tie) off at the Manila Airport.|
My father has been on hundreds of international flights since this first trip. Before returning to the Philippines three years later, he toured much of Europe by train as well as flying to the U.S.A. to visit New York City, see John F. Kennedy's inauguration parade in Washington, D.C., then continuing on to San Francisco. I wonder if, at the time, he realized what great world travelers his grandchildren would become.
Would you have minded the small planes and long flight times of late 1950's air travel?