Thursday 23 March 2017

Flying back to a golden era in the air

Books Editor John Spain assesses a new tome documenting the history of our national airline

NOT only could you smoke on flights, but you were actively encouraged to do so.

'First class' was truly five star, with impossibly glamorous air hostesses providing a superb, personal service.

The golden age of flying is documented in a new book called 'Doesn't Time Fly? Aer Lingus -- Its History'.

And it wasn't bad on the ground either, with no crowds, no waiting, no queues at the airport. Put simply, an Aer Lingus passenger was practically royalty.

The book charts the airline's story while also drawing heavily on the company's archive of photographs, posters, and advertisements as well as the memories of its staff.

The cover sums up how much things have changed over the years.

The picture shows a man swinging a propeller on the Aer Lingus plane, the St Aidan, at Dublin Airport in the 1950s. Flying was a more hands-on experience than it is now.

The book is a social history of the airline, but in many ways also of the era and the country.

For example, there are some fascinating pictures of famous people who flew with the national airline.

We see Georgie Best getting a bowl of shamrock from a hostess, and the Pope studying his speech during his flight to Ireland.

The story started 75 years ago in 1936.

Back then, the fledgling company partnered with British firm West Coast Air Services, which loaned money to Aer Lingus so that it could purchase its first plane.

That first plane, a De Havilland 84 Dragon, was registered EI-ABI and it was given the Gaelic name 'Iolar', which means eagle.

The inaugural flight took place on May 27, 1936, the day after the plane had been blessed by the Irish Air Corps chaplain.

It was piloted by Captain Eric Armstrong. The route was Baldonnel to Bristol, and departure was set for nine o'clock in the morning.

Sean Lemass and Oliver St John Gogarty were among those in attendance to see the flight off but they did not board the plane.

In fact, there were only five passengers on board. With all the excitement, the flight did not leave until close to 11am, but no one was in a hurry.

Two hours after take-off, 'Iolar' landed in Bristol.

Today the flying time is under an hour.

But Aer Lingus had successfully completed its maiden flight, and Ireland had a national airline.

The book relates how from the very beginning Aer Lingus was used to promote the country and how the shamrock on the tail fin came to symbolise the country overseas.

The pictures also recreate the era in the 1950s and 1960s when flying was highly glamorous, with more space for passengers and highly attentive service.

Those were the days when airlines like Aer Lingus not only let you smoke, but actively promoted certain brands -- on Aer Lingus one favoured brand was Gold Flake.

The advertising also suggested an experience that was sophisticated, glamorous, even sexy.

There was always a hostess with plenty of time to chat and to give passengers individual attention.

It was altogether more civilised.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was able to experience it.

To mark the 75th anniversary, the original first flight was recreated in a wooden 'Iolar' aircraft dating from the 1930s, which had been lovingly restored by Aer Lingus engineers.

Among the passengers on board two chartered flights on the vintage aircraft were the Taoiseach and Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller.

Speaking after his short flight, Mr Kenny said there was some turbulence, but nothing he couldn't handle.

The book, written by Mike Cronin of Boston College, is published by the Collins Press at €25.

Irish Independent

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