Don’t Let a Surprise Dampen Your Spirits
By J.R. Valentino

I was part of the Sales & Service Training staff at Breech Academy in 1971, and we were handling the introduction of 747 service to Athens, which required several instructors and I to fly there a week in advance. Our job was pretty straightforward, i.e., train all Ticket Agents and Ramp personnel in 747 procedures, including seating arrangements, the opening and closing of the 747’s doors, and passenger deplaning.

Since the Athens terminal did not yet have Jetways, we were prepared to drive the motorized passenger steps to the L1 door. I had spent several mornings with the Lead Ramp Servicemen, practicing approaching a wall with a simulated 747 door drawn on it. The technique was to line up the panel on the steps with the left hinges of the door to allow the Purser to open the door.


Finally, on September 17, our big day had come. After a long flight from JFK, the inaugural flight was on the ground and was taxiing to the gate. And as you may know, every inaugural flight was a frantic public relations event. Many Greek aviation officials were on hand to witness the occasion, and attractive ladies in Greek costumes waited at the bottom of the steps to greet the first deplaning passengers.

With all eyes watching our every move, the LRSM and I started to drive out with the steps and, wouldn’t ya know, in spite of our best training efforts he manages to miss aligning the steps with the door hinge. We tried about four times, and I could see and hear the TWA and Greek officials getting a bit concerned about our misguided efforts.

At long last, we managed to create just enough clearance to open the door. Breathlessly, I climbed the steps, knocked on the door and helped the Purser swing the door fully open. Looking at the faces of the passengers, after their long trip from JFK to ATH they obviously were eager to deplane.

The picture accompanying this yarn was taken by the Athens press, and appeared in the Athens newspapers the next day. Looking down from the height of the 747 door sill, a young boy had seemed hesitant to deplane, so, in the finest tradition of TWA service I scooped up the young “buckaroo” and carried him down to ground level. 

Welcome to Athens … in all the delay and excitement of the arrival festivities, the young man had wet himself.

Ah well, I received nice “atta boy” notes from TWA’s top brass, and I didn’t even bother to bill the company for having my suit cleaned!

”Val” Valentino joined TWA in 1944-1994 as a Cargo Handler and later served in nearly all aspects of ATO operations and related Sales & Services Training at LGA, JFK, ABE, SFO and Breech Academy.