St. Louis Blues

"I hate to see the ev'nin' sun go down
Hate to see the ev'nin' sun go down,
'cause my baby, he done left this town."

W. C. Handy ~ "St. Louis Blues."

'TWAs a different era. Air travel was far more than mere transportation ~ it was an adrenalin rush powered by radial engines, mystique and imagination. Memorable in a good way, people were drawn to their local airport by the glamour and adventure of it all. It was a magical place and stepping out onto the ramp to board your plane was to tread on hallowed ground. What had once seemed impossible would actually happen here as smartly dressed passengers queued up anxiously to embark on their voyage across the cloudscape.
The Sun was rising on commercial aviation and Trans World Airlines was right there, along with a few other airline giants, roaming the nearly empty skies. Back then, their future couldn't have looked any brighter. The evolution of commercial aviation was on a fast track. Bigger, quicker airplanes would fly off the assembly lines. In a temporary triumph of form over function, airport terminals were being designed with style in mind. There were even advances being made in air traffic control. Everything was taking off.  No one could see the storm clouds forming ahead and no one could imagine the shadows they'd eventually cast over some of our most legendary and prosperous airports ~ like St. Louis (STL). 
Giants in the clouds - with thanks to N. C. Wyeth

The aviation landscape would change over the years; its glamour fading into a flying boxcar mentality. Bad business decisions and corporate warfare took the lives of many great airlines and the communities they served. TWA, call it the other Spirit of St. Louis, would disappear forever. Sadly, the fabled Lindbergh Line turned out to be much shorter than it should have been ~ ending on December 1, 2001, after being eaten alive by (the proper euphemism would be "merging with") American Airlines. It was a giant-sized tragedy for air travelers in general and St. Louis in particular, on that sad day when Trans World Airlines made its final approach.

Hub operations would come and go at many other airports; leaving empty terminal buildings, vacant gates and fewer options for air travelers. Infrastructure improvements, made to accommodate hub growth, would be left underutilized. Based on growth projections, St Louis invested a billion dollars on a new runway (11/29). It's now used by only a small percentage their traffic. 

There are plenty of other examples of abandoned hubs.  Take American and Midway Airlines misadventures at Raleigh-Durham (RDU) for instance.  And who could forget the People Express operation at Newark? Here was a true "no shirt, no shoes, no service" kind of carrier that helped turn the magic of air travel into the tedious skyPod, prisoner transfer experience we now tolerate as just another of life's grim realities. 
People Express ~ AKA "Brownhound"

There were those antediluvian days before the corporate feeding frenzies began ~ before merger actually meant murder. When I checked into Big Time back in the Seventies, the terminal buildings weren't all surrounded by airplanes sporting the same logo. I could look down from the tower cab and see some of the names that made aviation so glamorous. Pan American, Trans World, Eastern, Braniff, National and many others ~ now crushed into small pieces of memorabilia you might still find on eBay but never at an airport. They're all gone, taking the heart and soul of air travel with them. Aviation ~ ripped up by its roots. 
Right back at you sweetie!

I've heard folks say that everything is cyclical. What goes around comes around. If so, we might one day expect to see some style and service return to air travel. We won't see aviation giants like TWA, Pan Am or National again though. They all "done left this town."

A brief aside. Back in my military years, back at Desolation Air Base, we would occasionally get late night calls on our approach control frequency. It would be from one of Trans World or Pan Am's long haul international flights, hurtling through the night sky between brightly lit world capitals. When they came within radio range, they'd dial us up and just chat until our signal faded. We had no idea where they were at the time but they'd usually tell us where they were headed. Hearing of those exotic destinations would take me, at least mentally and momentarily, far away from where I was. Listening to those very American voices in the night was a comfort to all of us who sat in that darkened tower cab, far from home.  

© NLA Factor, 2011


AC2USN said...

Grew up in St. Louis county, left to serve in the USN in the mid sixties. Spent the afternoon in KSTL ATCT and talked to the crew on duty about the new runway and the lack of traffic. TWA was an icon along with the others referred to in your post.

Enjoy your observations,

No Longer a Factor said...

Thank you for writing. Aside from my own personal experiences, aviation history isn't one of my strong suits. I am fascinated by it though, and can still remember many of the other airlines that vanished during my life on the boards. Companies like New York Air, Piedmont, Texas Air, Ozark, Air Florida, Republic, and others used to crowd onto our finals during the rush periods. They're gone now but I can still 'see' them clearly, lined up in the departure queues.

Take care!

AC2USN said...

Ozark and TWA shared STL airport as a hub for their lifespan. Took a FAM trip from CLT to STL on Ozark on my Friday and returned returned on my Monday on TWA. Their merger occurred over my weekend. The logo's are gone but not the memories.

No Longer a Factor said...

Yup. Along with TWA, Ozark was huge at STL. That FAM trip you mention must have been interesting. I can just imagine the cockpit conversation about their pending merger.

I never took a FAM with Ozark but I had a couple of great rides with TWA! If you haven't read it, see my post titled "Easy" back in the archives somewhere. It was probably the best FAM I ever took.

Thanks for sharing your story.


getjets said...

Love this Post!!!!
Thanks so much


getjets said...

YES...........THE BEAUTY OF IT ALL...........TAKEN OUT WITH ONE SWIPE...................

No Longer a Factor said...

Yes Jules - "Taken out" with malice and with avarice. I once traveled the world on those legends known affectionately as TWA and Pan Am. They're now as lost as the Titanic but with a sad difference. Titanic is buried two miles below the North Atlantic in a hallowed place. The remains of those two grand airlines are now scattered across the planet; for sale as collectible trinkets and souvenirs. It's undignified, unfitting and unconscionable. Life goes on though.

NLA Factor