We’ve Come a Long Way From the Stretch-8
My first international flight was on June 13, 1980 from Los Angeles to Okinawa, Japan. I remember it vividly. I was on a Military Airlift Command (MAC) flight that originated at March Air Force Base and after picking up a large group in Los Angeles it’s route, known as the “milk run”, went first to Midway Island, then Yakota Air Base near Tokyo, and on to Okinawa where I was joining Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE (Gold Team) who was already deployed.
The plane was a DC-8 or a Stretch 8 as this airframe’s variants were known. It was long and narrow with a single narrow aisle, three seats in a row port and starboard. The plane was built from 1958 to 1972 by Douglas Aircraft to compete with the Boeing 707. The hallmark of the stretch 8 was supposedly a fuselage that reportedly flexed in flight, although I don’t recall seeing it do this. Although this plane was flying a MAC mission it was charters by the military and had civilian pilots and flight crew or stewardesses as they were then known.
The stewardesses then gave safety instructions. Now corny videos are played on the tv on the back of the seat in front of you.
Then there was a non-smoking section, which was interesting because in this smoke filled tube it didn’t really matter which section you sat in. Now, no smoking anywhere.
Then in-flight entertainment was a magazine or newspaper and maybe a movie played on a single screen perhaps thirty feet from your seat. Now, a smorgashboard of movies from nearly every genre, sports and news and television programs, music of every type, games, destination guidebooks, sky map show you where you are, seat-to-seat texting in case the person sitting in 27C catches your interest. Best of all now there’s in-flight internet. For a nominal fee or free on some carriers you can be attached to your electronic leash as you were at home. And on my Virgin Atlantic flight I can plug into a USB port to keep my devices charged all the way from Los Angeles to South Africa. Maybe I didn’t actually need to pack those two pickup battery mophies.
The the engine noise was inescapable. Now I have noise cancelling headphones and I can’t hear the engines at all.
Then the food was really bad. “Would you like the chicken or the beef?” Now the food may be better. But some flights now don’t use carts. This is great news for those of us who have had an elbow or shoulder plowed into by one of these tanks. Now, you may on some carriers order form you own in-flight entertainment center when and if you want something and it’s simple brought to you. Today I have an actual paper menu on nice folded card stock. The main meal includes Man n Cheese, Korean Chicken or BBQ Pulled Pork.
Then there was really just coach and First Class. Now there is economy and premium economy and business class and first class, depending on who you’re flying with. For a price, or points, you can improve your flying experience exponentially. I like to fly Premium Economy when the price is right.
The seats are far better now on long haul flights again depending on the carrier. I recommend going to seatguru.com for the actual details on every seat in the fleet.
Back in 1980 flying seemed a little more exclusive. The airports weren’t near as congested as they are today. My limited research on this topic indicate the amount of commercial passengers between 1980 and today has increased five or six fold annually. The shear volume of people moving through the airports in the United States, Europe and China is mind boggling.
The biggest difference between then and now for me is the reason I was/am traveling. Then it was all business. It was exciting. My first time out of the country. I was going to go do some real construction work in an exotic place for the Navy SEABEES. And it was exciting. Now, I travel mostly for pleasure. I like all of these amenities, but I miss some of the old school service and mystery of air travel.
This Boeing 787-9 is no DC-8.