Thursday, July 21, 2011

FEAR of FLYING, 1935


“The officers of this corporation realize that traveling by air is continually becoming more popular and safer.”

So began an internal company policy memo, written in July 1935, 76 years ago this month.

“At the same time,” the announcement continued, “statistics indicate that fatalities are considerably higher in percentage in flying than with other modes of transportation.  It is, therefore, our feeling that flying should be permitted ONLY IN EMERGENCIES, but no employee should ever be instructed to go by plane.”

Remember now, the first plane had crossed the Atlantic in 1919.  Lindbergh flew New York to Paris in 1927.  The Wright Brothers historic flight was in 1903--32 years before this memo.  

It seems odd, doesn’t it?  In my personal version of misremembered history, planes are the dominant form of long-distance travel by 1935.  The golden age of rail was in the 1880s and 1890s, petering out as Ford and the Wright Brothers took over.  That’s what I thought, anyway. 

I did a little poking and, indeed, rail passenger numbers in the United States did decline by about a third in the 1920s.  But, here we are in 1935, and it sounds like commercial airplanes are about as safe and reliable as George Jetson’s jet-pack.

If an emergency existed, the memo said, an employee may take a plane, but only under the following circumstances:
  • Only one of the 25 commercial transport lines should be flown, those subject to the guidelines of the Department of Commerce.  “We do not want any unattached planes to be used.”
  • For transcontinental travel, there are only three lines (United, TWA and American) that may be flown.  Eastern could be used along the East Coast.
  • No single-motor planes may be flown at night, and, if during the day, only “over flat prairie countries, such as the Middle West.”
And finally, the memo demanded, special insurance should be taken out for every flight.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: The executive writing the memo had been born in 1874.  His father was chief of staff to a Civil War general.  And, here he was, in a big East Coast city with telephones and typewriters, trying to address the use of a mind-bending technology that was nothing short of magic until he was nearly 30 years old.

Funny, too, as I was writing this I got an email from Amtrak.  The Acela Express from Boston to Washington has: 
added some new and delicious items to the menu.  So now you'll not only be treated to great service and the fastest train connection to cities in the Northeast, you'll have even more tasty food and beverage options onboard.  In addition to brands like Sara Lee, Dannon and Green Mountain Coffee, we've added popular new food items to help satisfy any on-the-go food cravings from brands like Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sandwiches, Jack Daniel's, Sabra Hummus and more.
Then I got to thinking back to my latest purchase of a “Beef Up” box on JetBlue.   What a name, eh?  How about the “Pig Out” box, or the “Fat Face” box, or maybe the “Big Butt” box.  Jet Blue is such a great airline, but, my oh my, their culinary team must all be refugees from Allegheny Air.  Anyway, inside my “Beef Up” box  I found Old Wisconsin® Salami, Late July® Organic Crackers, Oakfield Farms Cheddar Cheese Spread, Stacy's® Bagel Chips, Belle Crème Gourmet Cheese Spread, and Brothers All Natural Fuji Apple Fruit Crisps.

So, I’m thinking. . .Jack Daniels and hummus. . .get up and wander around. . .or a little salami stick and goat cheese spread in the middle seat of row 34?  What are the safety statistics on that, I wonder?

The truth is I’d rather take the Acela to NYC from Boston any day, any time, than fly.  For me, it’s still 1935, and probably always will be.  And I’d like to tell you it has something to do with single engines and safety.   But I’d be lying.