"Sheepruns to Jetways"
By Rodger Morphett


My first time in passenger services was as a Cargo Agent, later known as Ramp Service Person, during the summer of 1958.  I was fortunate to find a summer job after my first semester in college through the good auspices of my old boss from Crew Scheduling (1955-1957) Jim O'Malley who figuratively arm wrestled George Mundy the Ramp Manager at IDL to get me the position.  I worked the 0600/1430 shift which started with the arrival of the Internationals at the IAB and continued over on the domestic side working the late morning and early afternoon domestic flights.  At the time TWA's counter was sandwiched between Northwest and Pan Am.  There was a relatively small lounge area behind the counter through which passengers were boarded on our flights.  We shared gates with NW and PA. As I was a probie, I got the "choice" job of working in the steaming bag room.  I would sometimes have to run late bags out to flights in a jeep and more than once I ferried the likes of John Wayne and Cary Grant to waiting flights they were running late to. 

The following summer of 1959 I was "promoted" to Ramp Agent.  We pushed steps up to arriving flights and using a clip board checked passengers, whose tickets had been pulled at the ticket counter, onto outbound flights. The passenger service amenities were few and far between.  The gates were openings in a corrugated steel sheep run, hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  The only real benefit was when it rained.  Oh, yeah, when it rained.  We had carts with umbrellas we would carry to the top of the loading ramp when a flight arrived and hand an umbrella to each passenger as they deplaned.  They would turn the umbrella in to the agent just inside the sheep run and when he had a number of them he'd run them out to the agent on the ramp to give out to the next group of passengers.  As I said the amenities were few and far between.

A glutton for punishment I returned for a third summer in 1960.  By that time Eastern, who had gates down in what we referred to as the "hook area", gates 14 and upward to 21 had opened its new permanent terminal.  The TWA Flight Center was to rise in the area adjacent to Eastern's recently vacated area and we moved down there.  TWA made some cosmetic changes to the area, but it wasn't really very inviting.  The major improvement was a much larger ticket counter and boarding lounge.  The passengers still had to negotiate the corrugated steel sheep run to the gate and the elements between the gate and the plane.  At the time passengers surrendered their tickets at the counter and made seat selections at a counter across from the ticketing area.  Soon after we began operations at the old Eastern area, construction began on the Flight Center. 

By the summer of 1961 work on Flight Wing II had progressed to the point where we were able to use it to board passengers.  Passengers would exit the boarding lounge walk a few steps down the sheep run, then make a right turn, walk through the still uncompleted main area of the Flight Center and out the gates.  Tickets were no longer pulled at the ticket counter, making it unnecessary for passengers with carry on luggage to stop there.  That along with nearly all indoor access to the gates enabled us to finally really provide quality passenger service.  Collateral with the construction of the Flight Center and Flight Wing II, the old corrugated steel sheep runs were upgraded with sheet rock walls AND HVAC.  We now called that area "Urban Renewal".  Passengers still had to brave the elements between the gate and the plane but the rest of the experience was now relatively convenient.  Passengers now made their seat selection at the gate when they surrendered their tickets. When the Flight Center officially opened in 1962 we had the finest facility at New York's International Airport.

At the end of the day when the last flights had arrived and had been towed/taxied down to the hangar, the Jetways had to be extended to facilitate cleaning.  More than once, a couple of agents, one in the front Jetway, the other in the rear, would race each other to see who could get to the full extended limit first.

I'll share just one more piece of trivia at this time about the Flight Center and Flight Wing II in general and Flight 148 on Sunday nights in particular. It seemed that every passenger on Flight 57 ORD/LAS between Monday and Friday had return space on Flight 148 non stop LAS/IDL Sunday night.  Flight 148 was a Convair 880.  880's were generally assigned to gate 11 as it was a tad smaller than the other gates and a perfect fit for the Convair.  But on Sunday nights Flight 148 was assigned to arrive at gate 10.  The reason for this was the FBI/Treasury Dept folks who set up cameras in the PRR office in the rotunda of the Flight Wing to secretly film arriving passengers from LAS.  As the passengers walked down the corridor from gate 10 they had ample time to take their pictures.  Whether it was "the mob" or just high rollers they wanted to keep tabs on we never learned.

Rodger Morphett TWA 1960-1990 Manager Planning and Budgets in the Eastern Region Offices at Hangar 12 at JFK.