By Jay Fidell
I’m flying. And whenever I fly, I think of the old days, and I can’t help but making comparisons.
I worked for American Airlines in the summer of 1963 between semesters. I was a “local control agent” handling, you guessed it, local control of reservations for flights emanating from New York. Our unit was based in the then-modern West Wide Airlines Terminal in Manhattan. I was on a team with 20 or so retired flight attendants then called stewardesses. They retired at 32 in those days, then joined local control.
We “shaped up” the flights, by manually sorting through “do not fold spindle or mutilate“ cards to make sure the reservation agents got it right and there were no duplicates, then-called dupes. This was important because overbooking was illegal then. How times have changed. The next year they replaced us with IBM’s automated SABRE reservations system.
The unit worked 24x7 and we had shifts. My teammates had the energy of an emerging industry and it was really exciting and fun, like flying itself in those days. The retired stewardesses showed me how to do a three martini lunch, which was popular in the 1960‘s. Just as well they weren’t flying.
Flying was charming then. The jets were brand new, and so were big city airports. You dressed up and it was a big deal, like going to a fancy restaurant. The food and service were great. The seats were wide, first class was quite luxurious, and some planes had lounges.
At the end of the summer they said I could fly anywhere I wanted as long as it was Detroit. Detroit? I wanted the flying experience so I went anyway.
I came to Hawaii two years later, and it was likewise completely charming. This was long before 9/11 and there was no security. There were no jetways and you walked down a stairway onto the tarmac. Honolulu International was very small, and you went directly from your plane to the taxis a few feet away. Along the way they gave you as much pineapple juice as you wanted. There was music, hula and ear-to-ear Aloha. It was place out of Michener, a foreign country
Today, Honolulu International is bigger but hardly looks international, nothing like the airports coming up all over Asia and so many other places in the world. It’s has a run-down quality calling for maintenance and cleanup. This shouldn’t be. And on most days it’s uncomfortably warm, calling for air conditioning. We‘re in a tropical climate, you know.
Whatever you want to say about our airport now, you can’t call it charming. It doesn’t have local style or sense of place and it’s blah and boring and old. I suppose the wiki wiki buses were cute long ago, but now they’re over the hill and of questionable convenience. Do we really think we can get away with this? How can we expect to contend as a tourist destination this way?
Yes, there are plans or contracts out there and one day some catch up work will get done on the airport. But, sorry, based on prior history I don’t think it’ll be nearly enough. Our airport needs more than cosmetic - it needs a complete rebuild or overhaul, and if we’re serious we’ll do exactly that. Over time, this’ll probably help the visitor count, if not to improve it then to slow its decline. One way or the other, there’s no choice.