The Long Way Home – A Non-rev Saga

Posted 11/16/03

By Keith Horton

We had been in Paris for 3-4 days attending a regional maintenance meeting involving the TWA’s maintenance foremen in the International Region. Meetings such as these were usually held once a year, sometimes also at Rome or London, and occasionally several of us from Kansas City were able to take our wives along.

With the maintenance business all wrapped up, we prepared to return home. Most of the Kansas City contingent had already departed, but my boss Norm Grotz and I had stayed a little longer. Finally, he and I and my wife prepared to board a non-stop flight from Paris to Boston with a connection to another Boston/Kansas City non-stop.

The head maintenance people at Paris, "Chappie" Chapman and Stan Moore, had accompanied us to the departure gate, wanting to assure that we got onto our flight. But I suspect they also were very glad to get us out of their hair and out of town. Our baggage had been checked and we were given boarding passes. As we settled into our seats we noticed that the airplane was nearly full, and that usually causes a little concern because as non-revs we were subject to being bumped.

There was a strange assortment of passengers on board. In the front row of first class, a passenger had the seat next to him occupied by a special carton containing an atomic clock. It was being flown back to the States connected to an electric outlet in the forward galley. In the coach compartment there was much moving around among a large group of high school kids trying to get to their assigned seats -- some of which were already occupied.

Nevertheless, Norm and I decided to get settled in and took off our shoes to put on the sleeper-socks that were provided us. My wife was a bit more anxious about the large passenger load, and our easy feeling was suddenly jarred by the PA system, "Mr. Grotz, and Mr. and Mrs. Horton, please gather your belongings and come to the front of the cabin!" We put our shoes back on, picked up our carry-on bags and up we went to the front to receive the bad news. Before long we were back in the terminal watching our intended flight taxi away with our Boston-bound luggage on it.

So now Chappie and Stan had us on their hands again. One of them suggested they might try to see if they could get us on an Air France SST that was to leave in an hour or so. Just the day before, as part of our meeting, we had gone over to the Air France hangar and had closely examined and walked through one of those fabulous Concordes. Anyway, our hopes were dashed because the Air France person who could have approved our passage was not available.

There were no more TWA flights leaving Paris for the U.S. that day, but there was a TWA flight from London to New York scheduled to depart in about three hours with space available. More telephoning disclosed the fact that an Air France 747 was due to depart for London in a half-hour, so we all hurried to that departure gate and after more telephoning, non-revenue passage was arranged for the three of us. There were only a few empty seats remaining and the only ones where we could sit together were in the very last row. It was a long hike from the front loading door to the back row of seats, but we made it and had a comfortable ride of about a forty five minutes. Leaving us about an hour and a half to get to the TWA flight.

That time grew increasingly short, however, because the workers at Heathrow were on a "slowdown" tactic and there was no one available to move the unloading steps to the airplane. Eventually, we did deplane, but not until about three hundred passengers had disembarked ahead of us. A TWA foreman was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps, and he hurried us into one of our trucks to drive us over to the gate for our TWA departure -- we made it, but with very little time remaining.

Our flight from London to New York was uneventful and pleasant. We were mindful that our luggage was on the Boston-bound plane that we had originally tried for, and now here we were going to New York and, hopefully, on to Kansas City. We were confident, however, that the luggage would be sent on from Boston to Kansas City.

Our arrival at New York was too late to connect to any flights to Kansas City, so we chose to get as close as we could by flying to St. Louis and staying overnight there. After making those flight arrangements, and with over an hour remaining before departure, we decided to repair to the Ambassador Lounge and call the Maintenance Coordinating office in Kansas City to find out how things were going along the world-wide TWA system. We were greatly surprised to learn that our original flight from Paris to Boston had suffered an engine failure about an hour after taking off and had returned to Paris and subsequently had canceled. We toasted our good, but complicated, luck for not being on that flight after all. We of course realized that our luggage now was back in Paris, but we expected it to be sent on to Kansas City eventually.

It was pretty late when we arrived at St. Louis and by the time we were settled in at a hotel it had been nearly 24 hours since we had arisen early that morning at our Paris hotel.

A flight the next morning finally got us to Kansas City … and oh yes, our errant luggage did indeed arrive in Kansas City a day or two later. Ah, the joys of non-revving.

Keith Horton (1941-1983) served in Maintenance/Tech Services - Engineering and Field Maintenance, Kansas City.

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