The “Queen of the Skies”

On this day fifty-four years ago, February 9 1969, the first airplane to be designated a “jumbo jet,” the Boeing 747, made its maiden flight.  It was certified for commercial service in December of that year, and flew its first flight with PanAm, in January 1970.

While I spent a considerable portion of my early childhood flying to “Those far away places, with the strange-sounding names,” and although I’ve flown tens–perhaps hundreds–of thousands of miles on 747s, I didn’t make it onto a BOAC 747 until I was too old for “Junior Jet Club” status, those days in which I belonged to an elite group of children who were allowed into the cockpit with the pilot (just try that today), and whose every trip was recorded in handwritten and clear detail:

But the story of the 747’s maiden flight surely brought up some recollections:

Of the sense of belonging, and feeling “special.”  Of the party favors, including the small bag with the shoulder strap that we proudly carried onboard.  (It currently houses all the leftover currencies I’ve collected from my trips over the years then and since: Nigerian, Spanish, British, Canadian, French, Japanese, Thai, perhaps a few more; I haven’t checked for a while, because I haven’t been anywhere for a while:

And the fan.  “All over the world BOAC takes good care of you.”  And they did:

And then there are the ephemeral reminiscences.  Of how lucky we were to be involved in what was–at the time–still the pretty early days of commercial airline travel for the masses.  And how lucky we were to have survived them.  We were treated like royalty, although we were nothing of the sort.  The service was excellent.  The meals were excellent.  The seats were spacious and comfortable.  The personnel were hard-working, kind, and meticulous.

And the bathrooms!  The toilets were miraculous.  “Where,” I couldn’t help wondering when I was about four, “did everything go when I pushed the button.”  Whoosh!  It just disappeared!

But, best of all, was the little vanity and mirror, chock-a-block with individually sized containers of perfume, lipstick, and sundry other potions and sprays.  “Blue Grass” by Elizabeth Arden.  I can smell it now.  I’d disappear into the bathroom, only to be retrieved many minutes later (usually after someone had complained) by my rather embarrassed mother, who was mortified to discover my painted face and the stinking (but deliriously happy) rest of me.  I’ll never forget that feeling.

Some decades later, and this particular memory was, perhaps, the first instance in which I realized the power of the Internet.

Many years ago, when I was wondering, one day, if I was the only person to have such recollections of the past. I did a search–I can’t remember which engine at the time–along the lines of “BOAC elizabeth arden bathroom,” and I came upon a chat group (yeah, it was that long ago) where a woman had written much the same thoughts about her early experiences.  Lord, it felt good to know I wasn’t alone.

I see that the last Boeing 747 rolled off the production line just a week or so ago, some 55 years after the first.  The “end of an era,” indeed.

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