My Last Ride On
TWA - A Salute
Posted - December 9, 2001
By Dan McIntyre
On December 1st, 2001, the sky was just starting to lighten as we pulled up to the Lambert airport terminal at STL. It occurred to me that this would be the last time I would be seeing the familiar signage of TWA. It was just after 0600 on Saturday. I was concerned about the delay getting through security, and arrived over two hours early for TWA flight 111 to Kansas City.
The terminal was unexpectedly empty for this hour. I went down to the departure level and cleared security in less than five minutes. This included the time it took to demonstrate that the camcorder I was carrying was a functioning camera. As I was walking on the C concourse I noted that my wife was probably not yet back on Interstate 70, and I began wondering how I would spend the next two hours.
TWA ticket agent George Gaus checked my position on the stand-by list for Flight 220. It was not good. I had been number 30 on Wednesday and it jumped to 50 by Friday. This morning I was number 72 -- and this with a 1952 seniority date. I was not the most senior on the standby list. That privilege belonged to long-time friend Ona Gieschen. She was a hostess that had started in 1946. She was number 71 on the list. I checked in and got my boarding pass for Flight 111 to Kansas City, and to be safe purchased a ticket for Flight 220. I did not like the odds and did not want to be left behind today.
To pass some time I strolled down the C concourse and did not recognize any of the agents on duty. I did manage a short visit to the TWA tower and was amazed by the changes that had taken place. Shannon Brown was there but busy with final preparations to the new systems going on line in a few hours. This facility was a complete change from the one that Jim Gravette, Bill Nelson, Graham Hollenbeck and the group that worked there had used during the start of hub operations at STL. All the equipment was now state-of-the-art and its physical layout was very different. After a brief visit with Steve Von Kannon and Shannon, I learned that Tim Duffy, Vic Capauto and Greg Allen were going to stay in the tower with American.
After leaving the tower I walked down to my gate for Flight 111. The gate area was almost empty. There were a few people wearing their TWA service pins. Jim Thompson and his mother arrived at the gate. They were planning to make the STL/MCI/STL turn on Flights 111 and 220, too. Jim's father Gilbert, worked for TWA from 1949-1971 as a Passenger Relations Representative. Jim was traveling on an OAL 90 percent discount. He was number 96 on Flight 220s stand-by list. His mom was number 87. Jim decided to pass on the last flight and stay in STL. They did not want to chance missing the last TWA flight to Columbus Saturday evening.
Flight 111 departed STL and arrived on time at MCI. It was a bright clear day as we parked in Kansas City. There had been about 40 non-revs on this leg. There were camera crews from St. Louis television stations. The TV crews were the only exception to this rather routine flight. Seated across the aisle and one row aft was sixteen year old Ryan Pearl. His mother was a long-time Flight Attendant for TWA before she "flew west." He was carrying a formal picture of her in uniform. I think that he may have been bearing the heaviest load of any of us on the last flight.
The TV crews were busy most of the trip doing interviews. My seat companion was a young woman from west of Denver. Just prior to departure, Steve Isaacks introduced himself to me. He is also a collector of TWA memorabilia. We were both mentioned in an article in the New York Times. As we deplaned I noticed that the Flight 111 route map was in the bulkhead holder. I liberated it for my collection and had the entire flight crew sign it for me.
The Kansas City terminal was almost deserted when we arrived. It seemed that only the passengers off 111 were all that were there. I did notice that Missouri National Guard troops were everywhere with their sidearms. There were only a few passengers at the ticket counter checking in for a flight. I was getting my boarding pass, when Ona Geischen arrived and we spent some time walking through the terminal trying to find where the TWA program would be. It was scheduled for the Gate 36 Hold Room.
The room had several tables of non-alcoholic drinks and two tables with pretty cakes. There was a speaker's podium and balloons. We returned to Gate 34 where a crowd was gathering. There were several members of the TWA Heart of America Seniors Club giving away TWA pins. Warmest thanks to STLs own Joe Vilmain for giving me one. Captain Compton had arrived and was greeting people. The TV crews were interviewing him and people where using this as a personal photo shoot opportunity.
The formal program was brief with only three speakers. The first was a woman named Norma (I missed her last name). She was the MC for the short program. She introduced American Airline's Bob Baker who spoke about TWA and Americans similar backgrounds, and the fact that American was getting TWAs greatest assets -- it's people. He then introduced Captain Compton. The Captains comments were mostly to thank everyone for helping make TWA the airline it was, and that helped during the transition. Next, Norma thanked Captain Compton for his leadership. Then she introduced our crew for this historic last flight:
Captain Bill Compton
First officer Bob Lundberg
C/A William Hoffman
C/A Sharon Scharr
C/A Dave Carnaghi
C/A Alane Jensen
C/A Mark Chambers
Two announcements were then made, requesting that we move to the security checkpoint early to ensure an on-time departure. Boarding was accomplished quickly. Ona and I ended up seat companions in row 12. I had seat E and she had F. We were each given a few gifts as we boarded. A special Last Flight route map, a commemorative Last Flight certificate signed by Captain Compton, and a small toy Boeing 747 in TWA logo. These were given to me by Wendy Gilmore, a former Ozark employee that worked in the STL tower and at In-Flight Service until the transition.
The departure from Gate 34 was very quiet. Despite the brightness of the day outside the cabin, the mood inside was subdued perhaps it was only a reflection of my own feelings. We had a water cannon salute from the Kansas City fire department on the taxiway. As we turned onto the active runway for departure, I noticed the distinct outline of the TWA Overhaul Base on the left side of the plane. TWA Flight 220, A/C #9408 named "Wings of Pride," lifted off to a smattering of applause, just as the Kansas City terminal building was passing by our window.
We cruised to St. Louis at 27,000 feet. The TV crews were very active in the cabin. The aisles were so crowded it made the last in-flight service difficult. The TV cameraman helped in passing the box lunches down the isle. Our last TWA In-Flight Service was packed in a white cardboard box. These caused memories of so many box snacks I had boarded on piston-powered flights so long ago. Our box contained a bottle of wine and a TWA glass. There were cheese and crackers and also some grapes. I did not open mine I chose to save it.
We passed south of the Lambert Airport and made a left turn just east of the Mississippi River. Our turn did not permit a view of the Arch or the Trans World dome. We did see Horseshoe Lake and the Locks as we crossed back over the river. We were descending with very low power settings as a fly-by of the main terminal was planned. When we flew past the terminal it looked like most of the TWA personnel on duty were outside to welcome us. Flight 220 made a turn to the south just past the west end of Lambert and made a short pattern to land heading back to the west.
Our touchdown was a great one. It was hard to tell when the airplane stopped flying and started rolling. The following comment was heard as we were turning off the runway, "That great landing was brought to you courtesy of Trans World Airlines." The St. Louis Fire Department gave us a final water cannon salute as we turned off the taxiway. I have been told that the rainbow caused by this salute was spectacular.
It was now official. TWA -- the Transcontinental Line, the Lindbergh Line, the "Airline of the Stars," the company whose lineage includes, Aero Corporation of California, Standard Air Lines, Maddux Airline, Western Air Express, Transcontinental Air Transport and Ozark Airlines -- had now "flown west" into history.
Those of us on board the last flight who were employees were permitted on the ramp for a group picture. Even with the extra security people watching us, they did not allow the news media from the flight on the ramp. As I was about to deplane, I noticed that Captain Compton had made a different route map for the bulkhead holder -- it was unbelievable that no one else had taken it. I did not miss this opportunity, and it now has a revered place in the McIntyre collection. We stood and waved for several different photographers. Security then moved us up the C-8 Jetway steps and into the terminal for a party.
The old Gate 31-32 -33 Hold Area was crowded with employees. There were soft drinks, champagne and cake available. I was surprised to find two of my favorite flight attendants -- Peggy Hurlbert and Val Hubinschmidt. Peggy seemed to be in charge of the wine table, and her crew was pouring very quickly but always behind demand. I looked for but did not see any of my peer group enjoying the party. It has since occurred to me that I have another reason to dislike terrorists. It was the new level of security that had kept the TWA Gateway Seniors Club away.
Captain Compton gave another speech and then made himself available for pictures. The Gate Room was now full of red-eyed people hugging and kissing. I had a hug from old buddy Imogene Dwyer, former STL gate agent turned F/A, who claims she will be flying forever. The afternoon rolled on as people came and went. I had the opportunity to say hello to old friends Lou Davis and Bill Daken.
All too soon, the gate area grew quiet as the crowd dwindled to about five people. Among that five were Jim Thompson and his mother. She was hanging in like the good trooper she is. They still had a few hours before their flight left. I said my good-byes and walked one last time up the TWA C concourse, toward the terminal and then past the now-still TWA ticket counters in the main terminal.
Dan McIntyre (1952-1992) served in Flight Operations.
Dan McIntyre email@example.com