June 09, 2008
My parents read the newspaper every morning. In Miami it was the Miami Herald and now on Bainbridge Island its the Seattle Times. But I don’t think they have ever written a letter to the editor of a newspaper (I may be wrong on that). So that’s why it was all the more surprising to see a letter from my father in the Travel section of the Times this past weekend. Apparently the paper asked for stories of the early days of commercial flights and my dad wrote about his experiences in the 1940’s going to Nigeria.
A slow and mesmerizing flight to West Africa
I made my first airline flight at the age of 14 in 1949. My father worked in Nigeria in West Africa, and I was going out to spend the summer vacation from school with my family. (The final days of the Empire!)
In those days, BOAC (later British Airways) had a large office near the center of London. All the check-in procedures (including the weighing of each passenger with his or her luggage) took place there, and travelers, unburdened by suitcases, took a shuttle coach out to Heathrow Airport.
At Heathrow we boarded an Avro York, a derivative of the wartime Lancaster bomber, which was unpressurized and limited to altitudes less than 10,000 feet. As a 14-year-old, I was enthralled watching the scenery marching past at a stately 250 mph or so.
The first leg took us to Tripoli in Libya. While the aircraft refueled, we disembarked and ate a leisurely dinner in the airport restaurant. The next leg, an overnight flight across the Sahara Desert, took us to the walled city of Kano in northern Nigeria for another refueling stop. After breakfast we reboarded for the final leg to Lagos’ Ikeja Airport. Again, a fascinating panorama as the scenery below metamorphosed from tan desert to green rain forest.
The whole journey took 24 hours. I’ve since flown similar routes in a third the time, but you lose something when you fly twice as fast and four times as high.
— Gerald Williams, Bainbridge Island
This was when he was 14 and he did it on his own. When I was 14 and traveled alone, I was escorted by a flight attendant 2 inches shorter than me to ensure that I stayed safe. I was only flying from Heathrow to Miami…how much trouble could I get into? Its not like I was going to Tripoli, or Lagos.
Well, its pretty exciting for me to see my dad’s name in print…